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Sri Lanka: fighting hinders further ICRC evacuations of severely wounded people

12-05-2009 News Release 09/97

Colombo / Geneva (ICRC) – Heavy fighting made it impossible today for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate wounded and sick people and their accompanying relatives from the combat area in north-eastern Sri Lanka, and to deliver 25 metric tonnes of food for thousands of civilians stranded there.

" Lack of security forced our ferry to stay offshore for the entire day today, only kilometres from the conflict area. As night approached, it had to sail back to its base further south in Pulmoddai, " said the ICRC's head of delegation in Sri Lanka, Paul Castella, from Colombo. " Evacuating the wounded and sick – among them children and elderly people – whose lives are in danger is the only way they will be able to receive suitable medical treatment: they need to be evacuated as soon as possible. "

Last Saturday, 9 May, was the last time the ICRC-chartered ferry was able to reach the conflict area. It offloaded food and life-saving medical supplies, and evacuated 516 wounded and sick patients and their accompanying relatives. Fighting also made it impossible for the ferry to approach the shore on the previous day, 8 May.

As the fighting draws ever closer, thousands of people trapped along a narrow coastal strip north of Mullaittivu are forced to take cover most of the time in improvised trenches and shelters in order not to be hit by exchanges of fire between government troops and fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The civilians also suffer from a lack of food, drinking water and proper medical care. " The plight of the people remaining in the combat area is desperate, " said Mr Castella. " We need unimpeded access to them in order to save lives. "

Since mid-February, the ICRC has been able to evacuate nearly 14,000 people from the area and deliver over 2,350 metric tonnes of food and other essential items.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 58 or +41 79 217 32 24  

 Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel: +94 11 250 33 46 or +94 773 1588 44