UN food convoy forced back by heavy fighting in Sri Lanka

October 16th, 2008 - 7:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Oct 16 (IANS) A 50-truck UN food convoy meant for thousands of war-displaced civilians in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealem (LTTE)-held areas was forced to return due to heavy fighting between the Sri Lankan troops and the rebels, an official said here Thursday.UN spokesman Gorden Weiss said the convoy, carrying 750 metric tonnes of food items, “left the northern town of Vavuniya at 12 noon Thursday in an effort to reach civilians displaced behind the line of confrontation in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.”

Weiss said that barely hours after the departure of the trucks, the UN office here received news of heavy fighting on the main high way the convoy was to travel.

“We could not proceed and were forced to return due to the fighting. The convoy is on its way back to Vavuniya,” Weiss told IANS.

He said that Thursday’s convoy was the “second one in as many weeks and is part of an ongoing operation to supply humanitarian aid” to an estimated 230,000 civilians fleeing the escalation of fighting between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE rebels across northern areas of the country.

“The UN will immediately seek renewed security assurances from the two sides before attempting the route again tomorrow (Friday) morning,” he said.

The first UN convoy - carrying 650 metric tonnes of food - was sent Oct 2 with government facilitation.

This was two weeks after the government ordered the UN and other non-governmental volunteer organizations to move out of the rebel-held areas for security reasons.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara confirmed that the convoy has turned back due to fighting and blamed the LTTE for it.

“Yes, the UN food convoy has returned as the LTTE started firing artillery shells towards the (Mankulam-Oddusuddan) main highway that the convoy was to travel,” Nanayakkara said.

There was no immediate reaction from the LTTE in this regard.

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