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'