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Sri Lanka: ICRC evacuates over 240 wounded and sick from the Vanni by sea

10-02-2009 News Release 34/09

Colombo/Geneva (ICRC) – A ferry flying the flag of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is currently evacuating about 240 patients from Putumattalan to Trincomalee.

They had fled Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital in the northern Vanni region on 4 February after it sustained repeated shelling.

The patients are expected to arrive in Trincomalee this evening and receive medical treatment. The operation started after both parties had granted safe passage. Civil authorities, medical staff, the fishermen's union and church representatives are also actively supporting the evacuation. An additional 160 patients still in Putumattalan should be evacuated on 12 February.

On Monday, Putumattalan was hit by shelling that killed at least 16 patients. " We are shocked that patients are not afforded the protection they are entitled to, " said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC delegation in Colombo. " Once more, we call on both parties to meet their obligation under international humanitarian law to spare wounded and sick people, medical personnel and medical facilities at all times. "

The ICRC is currently negotiating with both parties to continue evacuating the sick and wounded from the Vanni. " Medical facilities are no longer functioning. There are a few makeshift medical points, but these cannot cope with the increasing influx of patients, " said Mr Castella. " Urgent medical evacuations must continue to take place regularly. "

The ICRC remains extremely concerned about the plight of civilians still trapped in the Vanni, an area that has been hard hit by intense fighting in recent days. Most of the region's population is now displaced and completely dependent on outside aid, yet none has reached the area since 29 January. It is imperative that both parties immediately allow food and o ther urgently needed items to reach those who are trapped.

For further information, please contact:
  Sophie Romanens, ICRC Colombo, tel: +94 11 250 33 46 or +94 777 289 682
  Sarasi Wijeratne, ICRC Colombo, tel: +94 11 250 33 46 or +94 773 1588 44
  Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 26 or +41 79 251 93 02