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UK gives £5m to Sri Lankan crisis

[BBC, Sunday, 17 May 2009 20:03 No Comment]

The UK has announced a further £5m in aid to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe in Sri Lanka after a major offensive to end the civil war there.

The money will provide shelter, water and medicine – and takes the UK’s aid contribution to £12.5m this year.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander called the situation on the ground "desperate" and said there was an urgent need for supplies.

It comes as Tamil Tiger rebels called a ceasefire, after 26 years of war.

Urgent need

For months, tens of thousands of Tamil civilians have been trapped in the war zone, vulnerable to bombardments as the government and Tamil Tiger rebels fought bitterly.

The United Nations says they were being forcibly kept there by the rebels and that more than 6,000 have been killed since January.

The UN has told the BBC the army figures reinforced its view that Sri Lanka’s authorities were ill-prepared for the huge influx of internally displaced people.

Refugee camps inland are already badly strained accommodating the huge numbers of those who have fled the conflict.

Mr Alexander said: "We must prevent this desperate situation descending into a humanitarian catastrophe.

"There is already an urgent need for supplies of aid and it is vital that the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers allow international agencies immediate access to people driven from their homes by the fighting."

He added: "It is essential that we get food, medicines and shelter in as soon as possible to save lives.

"That is why the Department for International Development is giving a further £5 million – this money would be immediately available."

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