Sri Lanka asks aid workers to leave Tiger areas as fighting escalates

September 8, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka asked local and international aid workers to vacate Tamil Tiger-held territory ahead of a major military push to dismantle the rebels’ mini state, a minister said Monday. Aid officials, including UN agencies have reported that about 134,000 people were displaced from their homes in Wanni as a result of the current wave of fighting.

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 few aid agencies, including UN organisations, still operating inside rebel-held Wanni in northern Sri Lanka were told they should quit the area immediately, disaster management minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said.

“We have told them that we are not in a position to guarantee their safety given the present situation,” Samarasinghe said. “We asked to leave the Wanni immediately with all their resources. They wanted a week or two to comply.”

He said defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse explained to representatives of aid agencies Monday that Tiger rebels could attack humanitarian workers to shift the blame onto government forces