ICRC steps up aid efforts in Tiger-held areas of Sri Lanka

GENEVA, September 9, 2008 (AFP) – The international Red Cross said Tuesday it has stepped up its efforts to assist thousands of displaced people in the rebel-held Wanni area of northern Sri Lanka. Tens of thousands of people have died on both sides since the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam launched a separatist campaign in 1972 for a homeland for minority Tamils in the island’s north and east.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement that it had distributed family hygiene kits, mosquito nets and other items to nearly 78,000 people in the Wanni during August, but many more people had yet to receive aid.

“The ICRC has stepped up activities in the Wanni to meet the needs of the displaced,” said Toon Vandenhove, head of the ICRC’s delegation in Sri Lanka.

“Although we have been able to help a significant number of people who had to flee their homes, we are concerned about those who have already had to move several times because of the fighting. Not all have received humanitarian assistance,” he added.

Conflict has intensified since July between government forces and the rebel Tamil Tiger movement, with aid officials reporting that about 134,000 people