Hundreds killed in Sri Lanka, says ICRC (Lead)

January 28th, 2009 - 9:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 28 (IANS) Hundreds of people have been killed in fighting in Sri Lanka’s north, the international Red Cross said, as the UN pledged Wednesday to try evacuating hundreds of critically injured civilians from the war zone.The UN said it will attempt for the second time in three days to help evacuate by convoy “hundreds of critically wounded civilians, including at least 50 seriously injured children”.

A UN statement said the convoy had been trapped for days in the northern town of Puthukkudiyiruppu, which lies just across the lines of confrontation in territory held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The UN said that if the LTTE gave permission and if there was a lull in fighting, the convoy would cross the frontlines at midday Thursday and the injured would be shifted to hospitals in Vavuniya, also in the north.

The UN statement came after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that scores of wounded were overwhelming understaffed and ill-equipped medical facilities in Sri Lanka’s north.

Jacques de Maio, the ICRC head of operations for South Asia in Geneva, said that this followed intensified fighting between the military and the LTTE.

“People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers were injured while evacuating the wounded,” de Maio said in a statement.

“The violence is preventing the ICRC from operating in the region,” he added.

The terrified civilian population was in need of protection, medical care and basic assistance, according to the ICRC.

An estimated 250,000 people are trapped in a 250 sq-km area which has come under intense fighting. The people have no safe area to take shelter and were unable to flee, the statement said.

“When the dust settles, we may see countless victims and a terrible humanitarian situation unless civilians are protected and international humanitarian law is respected in all circumstances,” said de Maio.

“It is high time to take decisive action and stop further bloodshed because time is running out.”

The ICRC urged both sides to allow and facilitate the safe and voluntary movement of civilians out of the combat zone.

The ICRC said it was determined to stay as long as possible in the Vanni, but the parties must respect its presence and its work.

Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to enter the Vanni and aid workers and their premises must be protected from shelling and looting as required by international humanitarian law.

Hundreds of patients need emergency treatment and evacuation to Vavuniya, ICRC said.

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