(AFP) – Aug 14, 2008
COLOMBO (AFP) — Tens of thousands of residents have fled their homes in northern Sri Lanka where fighting between government troops and Tamil rebels has intensified in recent weeks, the Red Cross said Thursday.
"Among those displaced... are people who have had to abandon their homes several times in the recent months," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement.
Access to food, shelter, sanitation and clean water was an urgent priority for those escaping the violence, the ICRC said, and 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 112,000 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.
Kilinochchi, 330 kilometres (200 miles) north of Colombo, is controlled by the rebels and is their de facto political capital. An estimated 75,000 displaced people have moved closer to the district.
"A lot of people are sleeping in makeshift shelters. We expect the numbers to climb up from about 112,000 to 200,000 displaced people if fighting gets worse in the weeks ahead," UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said here.
Reporters are not allowed access to the region, and only a few aid agencies have been granted permission to operate inside rebel-held areas.
Sri Lanka's defence ministry said security forces are now marching towards Kilinochchi in their efforts to dismantle the northern administration of the guerrillas, who are fighting for an independent homeland.
Fighting Wednesday in Tiger-controlled areas of Weli Oya, Vavuniya and Kilinochchi left 34 Tamil Tiger rebels and two soliders dead, the ministry said. The LTTE did not comment on Wednesday's fighting.
The latest round of violence raised the number of rebels killed by troops since January to 5,820, while 531 soldiers have died in combat during the same period, according to latest ministry figures.
The government has poured a record 1.5 billion dollars into its war effort this year 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.
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