Red Cross Is in Talks to Resume Sri Lanka War Zone Food Convoys
The International Committee of the Red Cross is in talks with the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels on resuming food convoys to civilians caught in war zones after halting deliveries last month amid increased fighting. The ICRC is also seeking to ensure safe passage for civilians from Mullaitivu district, the last area held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Sophie Romanens, a spokeswoman, said today by phone from the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo. The last ICRC-escorted convoy, carrying food provided by the World Food Programme, went into the areas on Jan. 29, she added.
At least 250,000 civilians are trapped in conflict zones on the Asian island, threatening to cause a humanitarian disaster, the United Nations and aid agencies have said. A further 30,000 have fled to the government-held Vavuniya district, according to the United Nations Children Fund, which is helping them.
The ICRC hasn’t evacuated anyone from conflict zones since Feb. 12, when it removed 400 wounded and sick civilians, along with their families, from Puttumatalan village in Mullaitivu district, Romanens said. Two days earlier it removed 345 people and their families.
Tamil Tigers yesterday attacked a bus carrying civilian evacuees, killing a 60-year-old woman and wounding 13 people, the Defense Ministry said. The rebels threw a grenade and then opened fire on the vehicle, which was heading to the government- held town of Vavuniya from the northern district of Kilinochchi, according to the statement.
Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, who is still in the country’s north, will continue to hold civilians until the military captures him, the Sunday Observer said today, citing two suicide bombers detained by the military.
The Tamil Tigers are now confined to about 100 square kilometers (39 square miles) in the northeast Mullaitivu district after being driven from their main bases in the north and east of the country by government forces. The group is fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils in the South Asian nation.
Last week, the rebels accused the government of blocking access for international aid groups and of harassing refugees in camps. The government on Feb. 13 declared a 12-kilometer-long (7.4 miles) safe zone for civilians on the northeastern coast to allow access for aid.
Sri Lankan warplanes yesterday destroyed a hideout of the rebels’ naval suicide bombing unit in Vellamulla Vaikkal in Mullaitivu district, according to a Defense Ministry statement. The LTTE wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Separately, the government also held local polls in five central and northwestern districts yesterday. President Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted to turn the election into a referendum on his handling of the battle against Tamil Tigers, Agence France- Presse reported. No results have been announced yet.