ICRC seeking urgent access to stranded Sri Lankan town

GENEVA, Aug 8, 2006 (AFP) – The International Committee of the Red Cross is trying to negotiate urgent access to the area around the northeastern Sri Lankan town of Muttur, where at least 4,000 people are thought to be stranded by fighting, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. Shelter equipment and clothing for the displaced were being distributed through other local agencies. Another 11,000 people were also believed to be cut off by fierce fighting between Tamil Tiger rebels and Sri Lankan forces in the nearby town of Eachchilanmpattai and in “dire need of help”, the UN refugee agency said.

Seventeen Sri Lankan employees of a French charity, Action against hunger (Action Contre la Faim – ACF), were shot dead over the weekend in Muttur, which is at the heart of a battle over an irrigation dam and access to water.

“The ICRC is trying its best to negotiate with the parties to the conflict to (gain) access to Muttur. It’s urgent, we’re trying our best, but things are not evolving right now,” said ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad.

“Hopefully something will happen in the coming days and we’ll be able to go either by boat or by road to Muttur, this under negotiation,” she told reporters.

Nine local ICRC staff managed to get out of the embattled town.

Haddad said the