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Sri Lanka: humanitarian assistance can no longer reach civilians

14-05-2009 News Release 09/103

Geneva (ICRC) – In north-eastern Sri Lanka, hundreds of seriously wounded or ill patients blocked in the conflict area have been waiting in vain for several days for desperately needed medical care.

For the third consecutive day, a ferry chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and anchoring only a few kilometres away from the patients has been unable to evacuate them because of continuous heavy fighting.

" Our staff are witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe, " said the ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl, from the ICRC's headquarters in Geneva today. " Despite high-level assurances, the lack of security on the ground means that our sea operations continue to be stalled, and this is unacceptable, " added Mr Krähenbühl. " No humanitarian organization can help them in the current circumstances. People are left to their own devices. "

Thousands of people remain trapped in a small area along the coast within the conflict zone. As fighting goes on unabated, civilians are forced to seek protection in hand-dug bunkers, making it even more difficult to fetch scarce drinking water and food.

An ICRC ferry, the Green Ocean, is carrying 25 metric tonnes of urgently needed food. The last time the ICRC could offload food and medical supplies and evacuate patients was last Saturday, 9 May. In addition to the ferry, a cargo ship, the Oriental Princess, carrying another 500 metric tonnes of food from the World Food Programme, is waiting off the coast north of Mullaittivu, ready to deliver the food to civilians.

" We need security and unimpeded access now in order to save hundreds of lives, " said Mr Krähenbühl. " The ICRC stands ready to carry out its humanitarian work as soon as conditions permit. "

For further information, please contact:
  Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel: +94 11 250 33 46 or +94 77 315 88 44
  Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 58 or +41 79 217 32 24