ICRC concerned over situation in Sri Lanka 21/04/09
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is extremely worried about tens of thousands of civilians in north-eastern Sri Lanka , including women and children, many of them wounded or sick, who are trapped in the rapidly shrinking area along the coast that had been declared a "no-fire zone" by the government.

"What we are seeing is intense fighting in a very small area overcrowded with civilians who have fled there," said the ICRC's director of operations, Pierre Krähenbühl. "The situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Ongoing fighting has killed or wounded hundreds of civilians who have only minimal access to medical care."

The ICRC is concerned that the final offensive in the area by government forces against fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties.

"The LTTE must keep its fighters and other military resources well away from places where civilians are concentrated, and allow civilians who want to leave the area to do so safely," said Krähenbühl.

"On their part, government forces are obliged to ensure that the methods and means of warfare they employ make it possible to clearly distinguish at all times between civilians and civilian objects, on the one hand, and military objectives, on the other. In this situation, we are particularly concerned about the impact on civilians of using weapons such as artillery."

"In the coming days the ICRC will strive to assist and protect the thousands of displaced civilians fleeing the hostilities," said Krähenbühl. "However, it is imperative that independent humanitarian organizations also be allowed to provide desperately needed services and relief for civilians still trapped in the 'no-fire zone' today."

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