Sri Lanka seeks foreign help to supply Jaffna civilians

COLOMBO, Nov 24, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s president on Friday asked foreign relief agencies to help supply food and other essentials to half a million civilians trapped in the embattled northern Jaffna peninsula.

President Mahinda Rajapakse said essentials had been shipped to the peninsula, 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital, but distribution had hit serious snags because retailers had closed most of their outlets.

“I urge local and international non-governmental organisations to get involved in the distribution of food,” Rajapakse said on the eve of his visit to neighbouring India. “We are ready to help the NGO’s set up retail stores.”

Rajapakse travels to India Saturday on a five-day “working visit,” his second since coming to power a year ago and the first since fighting with Tamil Tiger rebels escalated.

Rajapakse said the Tamil Tiger rebels had forced retailers to put up shutters leaving only state-run stores open in the peninsula since mid August when the main land access to the region was closed following heavy fighting.

“Prices are soaring and people have to line up for hours not because of a shortage of food, but because of the big bottle necks in distribution,” the presid