Hospital under shell attack in Sri Lanka evacuated: ICRC

February 4th, 2009 - 5:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Feb 4 (DPA) A civilian hospital hit by repeated shelling over the past few days during fighting between government forces and Tamil rebels in north-eastern Sri Lanka has been closed and the patients shifted to safer locations, a Red Cross spokeswoman said Wednesday.The hospital located at Pudukudirippu, 385 km north-east of the capital Colombo, has come under several artillery attacks between Tuesday afternoon and early Wednesday morning, before it was eventually closed down and patients shifted towards a coastal area, said Sarasi Wijeratne, spokeswoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

She had no details about casualties, but a doctor in the area claimed that 14 people were killed and 10 others were injured.

Wijeratne said that the operation theatre was first hit Tuesday evening.

“We have helped the hospital authorities and staff to move the patients, equipment and available vehicles to a safer location. All people in the area and the government officials present in the area also have vacated the place,” she said.

Pudukuduirippu is the last major town held by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who, according to the government, are on the verge of being defeated in their bloody civil war against Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority.

A UN official said earlier in Colombo that 52 civilians had been killed in the fighting Tuesday.

However, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied that civilians had been killed deliberately, saying that there was a strong possibility that the Tamil rebels were sending civilians to the frontline in a desperate attempt to protect areas under their control.

The claims have been impossible to verify independently, as the army denies journalists and monitors access to the conflict zone.

Concern about the estimated 250,000 civilians trapped in the conflict zone has been growing.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband in Washington called on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to agree to a temporary no-fire period enabling civilians to leave the conflict areas.

Clinton and Miliband expressed their serious concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka caused by the ongoing hostilities, a joint statement said.

Government troops backed the rebels into a 275-square-kilometre area and expect to fully recapture rebel-held areas in the next few days.

Operations to recapture rebel-held areas in the north and east were launched in August 2006 and since then more than 12,000 rebels and 3,500 government soldiers have been killed, according to figures given by the military.

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