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Red Cross ‘lifeline’ to Sri Lanka war zone cut

[Telegraph, Friday, 15 May 2009 13:56 No Comment]

Tens of thousands of people trapped inside Sri Lanka’s northern war zone are going without aid and medical help because ships carrying essential supplies have been unable to land.

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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had opened a sea route to the tiny coastal enclave, less than twice the size of London’s Hyde Park, where about 50,000 people are under heavy bombardment.

Every day, a ship would deliver desperately needed supplies and evacuate the most serious casualties to hospitals outside the war zone. But the latest fighting has been so fierce that no vessel has been able to land since last Saturday. The only lifeline to the ruined enclave has been severed.

 

"Our staff are witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe," said Pierre Krähenbühl, the ICRC’s director of operations. "Despite high-level assurances, the lack of security on the ground means that our sea operations continue to be stalled, and this is unacceptable."

 

Sri Lanka’s government has refused to call a unilateral ceasefire to allow the delivery of aid. The Tamil Tiger rebels, who still control the coastal enclave, are also blamed for obstructing the relief effort.

 

Douglas Alexander, the international development secretary, said he was "utterly appalled" by the breakdown of the sea supply route and those responsible could be guilty of crimes under humanitarian law.

"Denying this life-saving evacuation and medical treatment is a fundamental violation of international humanitarian law. This deplorable situation rightly brings international condemnation of both parties to the conflict. There is simply no justification for allowing such needless suffering," he said.

 

Mr Alexander urged Sri Lanka’s government and the Tamil Tigers to "guarantee safe access" and the allow ICRC to "restart their life-saving work".

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