INTERNATIONAL

Huge civilian death toll, says ICRC

Sri Lankan police officers watch as a health worker unloads the bodies of LTTE cadres, ahead of burying them at a cemetery in Vavuniya, about 230 km north of Colombo on Tuesday.

Sri Lankan police officers watch as a health worker unloads the bodies of LTTE cadres, ahead of burying them at a cemetery in Vavuniya, about 230 km north of Colombo on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: AP

B. Muralidhar Reddy

Colombo: The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), in a statement here on Wednesday, said hundreds of people had been killed and wounded in the Wanni region following intensified fighting and violence was blocking evacuation of the wounded.

“People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded. The violence is preventing the ICRC from operating in the region,” said Jacques de Maio, ICRC head of operations for south Asia.

According to the ICRC, an estimated 2,50,000 people are trapped in a 250 sq. km. area which is seeing intense fighting.

“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 Mr. de Maio. “It’s high time to take decisive action and stop further bloodshed because time is running out.”

The ICRC appealed to both sides to facilitate safe and voluntary movement of civilians out of the combat zone. The committee said it was determined to stay as long as possible in the Wanni, but the parties must respect its presence.

Giving details of an incident in which 300 patients were detained at gunpoint by the LTTE, the Defence Ministry said ICRC and U.N. officials had gone on Tuesday with a convoy of 16 ambulances, seven trucks and one other vehicle to evacuate 300 patients from the Puthukkudiyiruppu area to Vavuniya. However, they were prevented by the LTTE from taking the patients, who were being detained at gunpoint. The Ministry said the troops had kept vehicles ready to transfer the sick ge to Vavuniya hospital after ICRC and U.N. officials brought them to the cleared areas on their vehicles.

“Three doctors, 12 nurses and eight attendants on those vehicles sent from Vavuniya awaited at the Puthukkudiyiruppu frontline expecting to receive the patients, but to no avail,” it said.

ICRC and U.N. officials conveyed to the military that the patients were being held by LTTE men who had heated arguments with ICRC and U.N. officials. Their request for more time to move those patients was granted by the troops. However, at 1.30 p.m. the official informed the troops of their failure to secure the release of the patients.

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