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Sri Lanka: rolling north again

22-08-1996 News Release 96/33

The latest military offensive in northern Sri Lanka has compelled some 150,000 civilians to flee the Kilinochchi area and seek refuge elsewhere in the Wanni region, which is controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The region's infrastructure is very poor, so thousands of displaced people have been accommodated in makeshift shelters or have settled under trees along the roadside.

Since the ICRC is the only humanitarian organization with operational capacity currently present in Wanni, the main aim is to make certain that the basic needs of civilians are addressed. The ICRC's first priority was to establish contact with all the parties, namely the army, the LTTE and local government officials, to ensure resumption of the government food supply which had ceased on 17 July. On 14 August the first food convoy made its way north under ICRC protection through the front line near Vavuniya. This operation was a temporary measure designed to break the deadlock and make sure that the food reached the displaced.

The ICRC has launched an emergency relief programme for the 7,000 most affected families, using its emergency stock (plastic sheeting, mats, bedsheets, soap and cooking utensils) in Wanni; more supplies should be sent in shortly. The six ICRC mobile health teams assisted by the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society have also provided basic medical aid to the affected population. As there is a shortage of water and sanitation facilities in Wanni, the ICRC is planning to repair and improve water pumps in the region, to deepen open wells and to build latrines; it also intends to produce leaflets on the safe use of water, for distribution among the displaced.