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'Thousands flee Sri Lanka fighting'

world Updated: Jan 16, 2009 17:09 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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Escalating conflict between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the Tamil Tigers have triggered a massive displacement of people in the north, said the first field report compiled by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) after the fall of Kilinochchi.

The ICRC added: "because of ongoing combat operations and the moving front line, tens of thousands of displaced civilians are concentrated in an area so small that there are serious concerns for their physical safety and living conditions, in particular in terms of hygiene."

For the internally displaced people (IDPs), it added, the situation is rapidly changing from bad to worse with no relief supplies reaching them for the last five days. The ICRC – the only INGO left working in the embattled north – said there is almost no area left in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu where civilians can be safe from ongoing hostilities.

"Families heading westward in search of safety are encountering other families moving eastward with the same aim," Paul Castella, ICRC head of delegation, said in a statement on Friday.

The ICRC has the job of negotiating with the government and the LTTE to ensure safe passage of patients and doctors between rebel-held territory and government-controlled areas.

"However, the ICRC is extremely concerned by the fact that no safe passage has been arranged since 9 January. This has put at risk the lives of patients who cannot receive suitable treatment on the spot and therefore need to be transferred to Vavuniya Hospital, in government-controlled territory," the INGO said.

A major concern of the ICRC is to ensure that civilians, the sick and wounded and medical personnel receive the protection to which they are entitled under international humanitarian law.

"The organisation has reminded the parties to the conflict repeatedly – in recent days especially – of their obligation to protect persons not taking part in the hostilities," the ICRC statement added.

In 2008 the ICRC helped more than 273,000 civilians and 32,000 vehicles to make the crossing.

In December, the ICRC facilitated the passage of 199 ambulances carrying 505 patients and of nearly 1,190 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid to conflict zone. ICRC staff also transported the bodies of 204 fallen fighters across the front line.