Sri Lanka offers new safe exit for trapped civilians

March 5, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka Thursday offered a new safe passage for thousands of civilians trapped in the island’s war zone as fresh fighting erupted, leaving at least 33 rebels dead, the defence ministry said. A pitched battle raged in the village of Chalai on Thursday, a day after a local Red Cross employee was killed while helping non-combatants leave the area.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona said the government had declared safe routes for civilians out of the shrinking territory still under rebel control in the northeast of the island.

“One will lead north past Chalai while the other will be south past Mullaittivu town,” Kohona said, adding that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had been invited to help civilians make use of the exits.

The government announcement came as the ICRC said one of its employees helping to evacuate wounded civilians from the conflict zone died after being hit by shrapnel Wednesday.

“One of our male workers was killed on Wednesday afternoon by shrapnel,” said ICRC spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne, who identified the victim as Vadivel Vijayakumar, an ethnic Tamil.

“Despite this unfortunate incident, the ICRC will remain in