Saturday, October 18, 2008

Food aid reaches Sri Lanka north

UN food convoy
The first UN convoy was sent in early October

A UN food convoy has reached rebel-held northern Sri Lanka where some 200,000 people have been displaced by fighting.

The World Food Programme said aid was handed to local government officials.

The 50-truck convoy carrying 750 tonnes of food was due to reach the Wanni region on Thursday but had to turn back after coming under artillery fire.

The UN tried again after receiving safety assurances from Sri Lankan forces and Tamil Tiger rebels who have fought fierce clashes in recent weeks.

A member of the World Food Programme, Mads Vejlstrup, said Friday's journey had been without major incident.

map

"Today we had no problems except rain," he told the BBC Tamil service.

"We are now off loading in Pudukudiyiruppu. My colleague has gone with another group of lorries to Kilinochchi district and so far offloaded 80 tonnes of food. We are planning to come back tomorrow morning."

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says civilians in the north are trapped between the rebels, who do not want them to leave, and the military whose assurances of a safe route out they appear to distrust.

Many are living in camps, or sheltering under trees from the monsoon rain.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government says it has sent enough medicine to last to the end of the year in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts.

Offensive

Our correspondent says this is only the second convoy to reach Tamil Tiger controlled northern Sri Lanka since the government ordered out humanitarian workers last month.

It was forced to turn back by fighting on Thursday.

Shells exploded "uncomfortably" close to the convoy inside the Wanni region, a UN spokesman said. It is not clear who was behind the firing.

The first UN convoy of food aid was sent into rebel-controlled northern Sri Lanka a fortnight ago after the UN and other agencies were ordered out in mid-September.

The UN says the latest convoy was carrying enough food to feed the population in the Wanni for about a week.

Troops and rebels have fought fierce battles in recent weeks as the army advances towards the key rebel town of Kilinochchi.

Sri Lanka's military is continuing an offensive aimed at capturing territory controlled by the Tigers and ending their fight for a separate state for the ethnic Tamil minority.

According to the military, soldiers are now only about 1.5km (one mile) from the outskirts of Kilinochchi.

But with journalists barred from the area, the claims cannot be independently verified.

Many civilians have fled Kilinochchi to escape the fighting in recent weeks.

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