Thousands flee as fighting flares in Lanka

Colombo, August 14:

Tens of thousands of people are on the run in northern Sri Lanka where fighting between government troops and Tamil rebels has intensified in recent weeks, the Red Cross said today.

Some of the displaced who have headed to the Tamil Tigers’ political capital, Kilinochchi district, had been on the run for months, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

“Among those displaced... are people who have had to abandon their homes several times in the recent months,” the ICRC said in a statement.

Access to food, shelter, sanitation and clean water was an urgent priority for those fleeing, the ICRC said.

Health facilities were “struggling to cope with the increased demand.” “Many people have received basic humanitarian relief but as the number of displaced persons increases, so do their needs,” said Anthony Dalziel, the ICRC’s deputy head of delegation in Sri Lanka.

United Nations aid agencies working in the conflict-hit areas said 112,019 people had been internally displaced in the past two months and warned that “the figure is expected to increase.”

“The general security situation in Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu districts remains tense and unpredictable with ongoing military operations and exchange of mortar, artillery shelling and air attacks,” the agencies said in a separate statement.

About 12,000 families who were displaced during June and July fighting, have now moved further north, closer to Kilinochchi, 330 km north of Colombo.

Reporter are not allowed access to the region, and only a few aid agencies have been granted permission to operate inside rebel-held areas.

The government has poured a record $1.5 billion into this year’s war efforts and troops are now concentrating on dismantling the LTTE’s de facto state in the north.

Colombo pulled out of a truce with the LTTE in January, saying it had the upper hand in the long-running conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1972.

The Tamils are fighting for an independent homeland.

Sri Lanka’s defence ministry said security forces were marching towards Kilinochchi in efforts to dismantle the de facto state of the Tiger guerrillas.

Meanwhile, a wave of battles across the front lines in Sri Lanka’s 25-year-old civil war killed 14 ethnic Tamil rebels and two government soldiers, the military said today.

Government jets hit a series of Tamil Tiger targets in the Mullaittivu region today in support of troops fighting on the ground, the military said in a statement.