Aid ship arrives in Sri Lanka's besieged Jaffna
COLOMBO, Aug 25: The first aid ship to break a two week siege of Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna peninsula prepared to unload today, while another Red Cross-flagged vessel readied to evacuate foreign nationals.
More than three weeks of fighting has created a humanitarian crisis in north and east Sri Lanka and some 180,000 people have fled their homes. With road, air and sea links to Jaffna cut, shortages are rife.
''The ship anchored 15 miles off the coast last night because they did not want to go into the harbour at night,'' said International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman Davide Vignati.
''This morning the plan is to come in and unload.'' Most shops on the Jaffna peninsula have run out of food and some of its half a million people are down to one meal a day.
The ship is carrying over 1,000 tonnes of mostly dried food goods donated by the government and World Food Programme.
Another small ferry flying the Red Cross flag would sail from the northeastern port of Trincomalee today morning, officials said, evacuating the first 150 of an estimated 500 expatriates -- mainly Jaffna Tamils with British or Canadian passports.
The ferry will also carry Jaffna's cancer specialist, trapped away from the town by the fighting, back to treat his 1,000 or so patients in the besieged area.
''We have tried all ways to go back to Jaffna,'' Dr N Jeyakunaran told Reuters. ''Our cancer patients are all there.
The radiation treatment plant is closed. If this goes on much longer, we will have to start evacuating patients to Colombo.'' Sporadic artillery fire continued from Trincomalee into rebel areas south of the port overnight, while in the eastern Batticaloa district the military said the rebels clashed with elite police Special Task Force (STF) commandos.
The STF said they killed one rebel and one of their men died of his wounds.
Aid workers hoped fighting would be subdued on Friday to allow aid in.
The Red Cross said that with security guarantees from both sides, they were confident their neutrality would be respected.
Captain Ranga Vadivel Shamugalingam, who normally takes his 60-foot ferry into the war-battered town of Mutur just south of Trincomalee, was more blase.
''The Tigers are no problem,'' he said as the ship prepared to leave on the 10 hour voyage to Jaffna past swathes of rebel held coastline known to be home to Sea Tiger attack boats.
''Even when we went to Mutur they were firing. We get used to it.''