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Sri Lanka: Mission accomplished

10-09-1997 News Release 97/35

Last week the ICRC acted as a neutral intermediary in the return of a North Korean merchant vessel, the Morang Bong , which had been seized by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in early July and subsequently ran aground off the north-east coast of Sri Lanka. The ship, under ICRC escort, was towed by a neutral tugboat to Trincomalee harbour on 2  September.

Following the seizure of the Morang Bong and the capture of  its crew, the ICRC was asked to facilitate the dialogue between the ship's owners and the LTTE. On 10 July the body of a sailor who had died during the LTTE attack was handed over to the ICRC and taken to Colombo, and two days later the remaining 37 crew members were released and repatriated under ICRC supervision. The ICRC also forwarded the crew's appeal to the LTTE to return their ship, as it was their sole means of livelihood. In response, on 14 August the LTTE decided to release the vessel under the auspices of the ICRC, indicating that it was doing so " on humanitarian grounds " .

The ICRC has been working in Sri Lanka's conflict areas since 1989; its traditional humanitarian activities include protecting detainees, restoring contact between separated family members, providing assistance to the civilian population, disseminating rules for behaviour in combat, and acting as a neutral intermediary whenever required.