Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reuters - Up to 85,000 people to flee Sri Lanka war

GENEVA (Reuters) - Up to 85,000 civilians trapped in northeastern Sri Lanka could flee the war zone in coming weeks as the army closes in on rebel-held territory, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.

The Sri Lankan government has allocated 300 acres of land where the UNHCR can receive up to 42,000 people by the end of next week, spokesman William Spindler said, citing the need to double the space to accommodate uprooted people in the region.

Aid agencies estimate 200,000 people are trapped in a narrow 12-km (7.5-mile) war zone on the northeastern coast, where the military has boxed in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.

"Given the magnitude of the civilian population still trapped inside the LTTE-held territory and expected to flee into government-controlled areas as military operations advance further, UNHCR has requested the government of Sri Lanka to provide another 300 acres to bring the total potential reception capacity to 85,000 persons," Spindler told a news briefing.

Some 36,000 displaced Sri Lankans have already fled to government-controlled areas of Vavuniya and Jaffna, according to the U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP), which delivered 40 metric tonnes of food by tugboat to the northern government-designated safe zone in the Vanni area on Thursday. It was its first delivery in six weeks after WFP land convoys were interrupted by the fighting on January 16, WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella said. The agency hopes to deliver up to 300 metric tonnes of food per week, she said.