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Terrorism & Security

Thousands of civilians remain trapped in Sri Lankan war zone

The UN evacuated about 300 people Thursday but human rights groups say a humanitarian crisis is looming.

By Huma Yusuf / January 29, 2009

A United Nations convoy in Sri Lanka on Thursday evacuated about 300 civilians wounded in fighting between Sri Lankan troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). According to humanitarian agencies, about 250,000 civilians are trapped in the remaining LTTE territory in northeastern Sri Lanka. However, the Sri Lankan authorities are playing down the threat posed to civilians in one of Asia's longest running wars.

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According to the BBC, this was the second attempt by the UN convoy to transport civilians to safety.

The convoy crossed the front line out of the battle zone during a brief pause in the fighting.
A UN spokesman said the injured, including 50 children, were being taken to a hospital in the town of Vavuniya....
The United Nations convoy, which was trapped in the town of Puthukkudiyiruppu, succeeded in its second attempt in three days to [evacuate] the critically wounded civilians.

Previous attempts by the convoy to remove wounded civilians were blocked by the LTTE, reports The New York Times.

The International Committee for the Red Cross confirmed the evacuation and said the convoy was carrying 226 civilians, including children, who had been injured in intense fighting over the last 10 days in and around Mullaittivu, the last rebel stronghold along the northeastern coast of Sri Lanka.
Their injuries may have stemmed from government shelling, though it was impossible to verify because journalists and aid workers have been barred from the combat zone. For three days, the convoy was prevented from crossing the front line by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also called the Tamil Tigers.
The breakthrough came Thursday, after aid agencies, human rights groups and the United Nations, which has been unable to evacuate some of its staff and their dependents, issued unusually strong statements criticizing the warring parties.

However, the LTTE has denied blocking the convoy's passage, reports The Guardian.

Late yesterday, the pro-rebel website said the Tigers denied blocking the convoy, quoting the director of the LTTE peace secretariat, S Puleedevan.
"The LTTE has been repeatedly urging the ICRC to facilitate unhindered transportation of injured civilians who need urgent attention, and also for the provision of medical facilities locally," TamilNet quoted him as saying.

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