Plight of trapped Sri Lankan civilians worsens (Lead)

Colombo, April 24 (Inditop) The plight of civilians trapped in a narrow coastal land strip in northern Sri Lanka worsened Friday amid shortages of food and medicine and ongoing fighting between troops and Tamil rebels, reports from the area said.

Civilians were mostly on the beaches of the eight-km strip in Mullaitivu district, 395 km north-east of the capital, with some of them taking cover in fishing boats turned upside down or others holding umbrellas and standing in the scorching sun.

A doctor based in the area speaking by telephone to DPA said that there were also many people injured who needed medical attention but could not be transferred out.

On Thursday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helped to evacuate 530 seriously injured by sea. The ship was delayed several hours due to the fighting.

Thiyagaraja Sathiyamoorthy, a doctor, said that there were more than 1,200 others who needed urgent medical attention and needed to be transferred out because the area does not have medicine or facilities to provide treatment.

Local and international organisations have expressed concern about the plight of the civilians who remain in the area. Government officials quoted civilians coming out of the area as saying the figure may be around 15,000 to 20,000, but other sources say the figure could be around 40,000.

Verification of the wildly differing estimates could not be obtained because of tight restrictions on news reporting in the area.

Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Thursday said he was concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka and was sending a humanitarian team to the north-eastern coast where the civilians are trapped.

However, it was unlikely that such a visit would be possible as fighting continues between Tamil rebels and government troops in the area.

India’s National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon are currently in talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on the humanitarian crisis.

The number of civilians leaving the rebel-held areas has reduced since Thursday with fresh fighting reported in the area.

On Thursday 2,934 civilians left the rebel-held area while Friday only 300 people left the area, according to the military.

A mass exodus was reported from Monday to Wednesday.

Troops were fighting their way into some of the last Tamil rebel-held areas in north-eastern Sri Lanka, with special focus on locating the hideout of the rebel leader Velupillai Prabhkaran, military officials said Friday.

The officials said that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which had been capturing visual images from air, also have been used to monitor the movements of the rebels and locate the area where the rebel leader is believed to be hiding.

However, a senior military official based in the northern war front told reporters Friday that the rebel leader may have escaped in a submarine from the narrow land strip where the rebels have been cornered.

But Brigadier Shavindra de Silva, who has been leading the troops in the operations, told a group of journalist who are on conducted tour to the areas captured by the military that according to intelligence reports the rebel leader and a few of his senior members are still in the area.

He said in the last two days of fighting 15 soldiers were killed and 75 injured.

The military says they are on the final phase of a 25-year military campaign by the rebels to establish a separate state in the north and eastern parts of Sri Lanka.