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ICRC cuts back S.Lanka operations after govt order

[AFP, Monday, 20 July 2009 14:50 No Comment]

ALeqM5g3IcExyhuYwJvl6AxY4Zp5wkKIqQ The Red Cross on Monday announced the closure of four offices in Sri Lanka following a government order to foreign aid agencies to scale down operations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its four offices in the embattled eastern province were closed at the weekend.

"The ICRC reaffirms its commitment to meet the humanitarian needs of those directly or indirectly affected by the recent conflict," the Geneva-based organisation said in its statement.

It said offices in the Akkaraipattu, Batticaloa, Muttur and Trincomalee areas in the eastern province were shut. The statement did not mention ICRC operations in the north where there are some 300,000 war-displaced civilians.

Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said earlier this month all international relief agencies, including the Red Cross, had been asked to scale down operations following the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The ICRC handled, among other things, the swapping of dead bodies of combatants and also manned entry and exit points from the rebel-held territory before it was finally overrun by government forces in mid-May.

The ICRC has had a strained relationship with the Sri Lankan government, which accused the charity of inciting panic over civilian deaths at the height of fighting in April and May.

The two were also at loggerheads over the issue of camps for the displaced, with the ICRC demanding unimpeded access to the facilities.

Tens of thousands are currently being housed in the camps which are guarded by the military. Critics say they are being subjected to prison-like conditions.

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