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Sri Lanka: Evacuating the sick by sea

04-08-1999 News Release 99/31

On 1 August, the ICRC began evacuating serious medical cases from the Vanni, the northern province held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), by sea. By Monday, eight patients had been transferred to Mannar hospital aboard fishing boats protected by the red cross emblem and escorted by ICRC delegates.

The plight of the local population, especially the sick, has taken a turn for the worse since late June, when military operations resulted in the closure of the only land route to and from the Vanni, thus halting the delivery of food and medical supplies as well as all civilian movement.

The boats sailing from Mannar Island to Iluppaikadavai, off the Vanni coast, enabled students living in the Vanni to receive their question papers for the GCE Advanced Level examinations currently being held all over the island.

The ICRC, acting as a neutral intermediary, has been seeking to have the land route re-opened by urging both the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) and the LTTE to consider the humanitarian issues involved.

The ICRC will continue the medical evacuation operation until the SLA and the LTTE reach agreement on this matter.

The ICRC has been present in Sri Lanka since 1989. It currently has 44 expatriates and 300 national staff working in its offices in Colombo and in the northern and eastern parts of the country.