Tens of thousands of civilians on the run

The International Committee of the Red Cross is extremely concerned by tens of thousands of people who are on the run because of fighting between troops and Tamil rebels in northern Sri Lanka, where civilians have no safe passage.


AFP - Tens of thousands of people are on the run because of fighting between troops and Tamil rebels in northern Sri Lanka where civilians have no safe passage, the Red Cross said Friday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was "extremely concerned" that the warring parties had not agreed on a safe route for civilians since January 9.

"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 ICRC said in a statement.

It said there had been a "massive displacement" of civilians -- many of them having already been forced to move numerous times -- who were increasingly seeking the safety of government-controlled areas.

The defence ministry said on Wednesday a total of 1,707 people had crossed over to government-held areas in the first two weeks of January and were given emergency relief supplies.

"Repeated displacements, often involving the loss of their personal belongings, have taken a toll," said Paul Castella, the ICRC's head of delegation.

Castella said fighting had prevented relief supplies from reaching the refugees.

"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," ICRC said.

The ICRC is among the few international relief agencies allowed to operate in rebel-held areas.

A massive assault by Sri Lankan troops has left the Tigers cornered in their military stronghold in the northeast coastal district of Mullaittivu.

Troops on Friday captured another jungle airstrip used by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the defence ministry said, the day after another runway was seized.

The Tigers are believed to have five Czech-built Zlin-143 aircraft, smuggled onto the island in pieces and re-assembled. The guerrillas last launched an air attack early in September, when they bombed a military base.

However, none of the light planes used by the LTTE have yet been recovered by the army.

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