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UN evacuates wounded Tamil civilians from war zone

T V Sriram in Colombo | January 29, 2009 19:43 IST

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United Nations on Thursday began running special rescue convoys and evacuated hundreds of wounded Tamil civilians from behind the Tiger-held areas as concerns grew worldwide over the fate of 250,000 civilians trapped in the war zone.

"About 350 critically-wounded civilians, including 50 children, were brought to safety zones," UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said. These civilians are part of an estimated 250,000-400,000 Tamils trapped in the jungles of Mullaittivu who require immediate evacuation, the UN official said.

The rescue of Tamil civilians came as international human rights groups expressed fears that the lives of the trapped people are becoming increasingly dangerous.The UN is proposing to run more such special convoys to evacuate the trapped people and has sought cooperation from both the Sri Lankan army as well as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Top priority, the UN says is being given to hundreds of people reportedly critical suffering from battle wounds and sickness.

The civilians are residents of northern towns of Killinochchi and Mullaittivu and their outlying areas, who according to Lankan officials are being used as human shields by the Tigers. But the LTTE [Images] denies this, saying that the populace is accompanying them in battle of their own will.

Whatever be the reason, there is an international outcry to bring these people, who include thousands of women and children, wounded and sick to safety. UN officials said another rescue convoy was still trapped behind Tiger frontlines, with the LTTE refusing permission for it to leave.

The position of these civilians is becoming precarious day by day as the areas being held by the Tigers shrinks every hour and the human rights watch group are warning that if timely cross-over is not undertaken a catastrophe might unfold.

Other convoys and ambulances meant to evacuate the trapped civilians are also stranded for days near the embattled town of Puthukkudiyiruppu, which lies just across the lines of confrontation in territory controlled by the LTTE.

India has moved special relief, including medicines, blankets, foodstuff and water for these people and has urged Colombo that their being moved to safety should be the priority task.

Nearly 5,000 people have managed to cross the zones held by the group to government-controlled areas since late November, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban-ki-Moon, has called for all parties to allow and facilitate the movement of the 250,000 civilians currently caught up in fighting to safe areas.

"Ban calls on the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka [Images] to accord immediate and absolute priority to ensuring the protection and well-being of civilians, including humanitarian aid workers," his spokesperson said in a statement. Ban also called on both parties to respect "no fire zones," "safe areas," and civilian infrastructure including schools, medical facilities, humanitarian facilities and assets.

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