Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Humanitarian crisis looms in Sri Lanka

REDEPLOYMENT Aid agencies that had focused on tsunami reconstruction are now looking to provide relief in a war between the government and rebels

AP , COLOMBO

Catholic and Buddhist nuns supporting the National Anti War Front walk during a peace rally in Colombo on Thursday. The activists called on the Tamil Tigers and the government to adhere to the ceasefire and return immediately to the negotiating table.

PHOTO: AP

Fighting in Sri Lanka is preventing the delivery of much-needed aid to tens of thousands of people displaced in the north and east by clashes between government soldiers and rebels, British relief workers said yesterday.

Military road blocks are limiting access to areas in need, and there are limitations on relief items being allowed in, eight British aid agencies working in Sri Lanka said in a statement.

Violence between government forces and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels has spiked in the past few weeks in the north and east, where the insurgents want to establish a separate homeland for the country's minority 3.2 million Tamils.

Aid agencies estimate that about 100,000 people have fled their homes since late last month when the latest round of violence broke out. Most of the fighting has been centered around the eastern port of Trincomalee and northern Jaffna Peninsula, areas that were hit hard by the 2004 tsunami.

Tsunami housing reconstruction and other livelihood projects have been put on hold and staff pulled out of several areas where the shelling has become intense, said Sally Austin of Care, one of the eight agencies calling for an immediate return to the 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire.

Aid agencies that had focused on tsunami reconstruction projects were now looking to provide "lifesaving activities" as well as other ongoing development projects, she told reporters.

"Before last week, we wanted to get reconstruction supplies up there, cement and timber and windows and doors. Now we are looking at humanitarian supplies," she said.

A 22-hour curfew in Jaffna, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting since the ceasefire, has kept most of the district's 500,000 predominantly Tamil residents at home. Food and kerosene is in short supply and prices for basic goods have more than doubled. There is almost no electricity and phone service is intermittent.

The EU said it was "deeply concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka and the suffering of innocent people."

It called for an immediate end to hostilities.

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