Sri Lanka Tigers, Red Cross in talks to free wounded civilians

January 31, 2009 (AFP) – The Red Cross said Saturday it was in talks with Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger rebels to release more wounded civilians trapped in the island’s embattled north. Sri Lanka’s government, which denies it targets civilians, has rejected international calls for a ceasefire and says the military is in the final phase of operations to defeat the Tamil separatists after 37 years of violence. “We are negotiating with both parties to the conflict to ensure safe passage for more patients that need urgent medical attention,” Sarasi Wijeratne, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told AFP.

She would not say how many people could be brought out of Puthukkudiriruppu, which lies behind LTTE frontlines in the district of Mullaittivu.

The UN Thursday evacuated 350 wounded civilians, including 50 children, after negotiations with the Tigers, who have been accused of holding 250,000 civilians hostage in an area they still hold.

The UN agency for children urged the Tigers and the government to give “absolute priority” to the safety of “tens of thousands of children” trapped in the fighting.

UNICEF said children as young as 1