Sri Lanka fighting forces tens of thousands flee: ICRC

January 16, 2009 (AFP) – Intense fighting in northern Sri Lanka has forced tens of thousands of homeless civilians to flee areas controlled by the encircled Tamil Tiger rebels, the Red Cross said Thursday. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported “massive displacement” of civilians — many of them having already been forced to move multiple times — as they sought safety in government-controlled areas.

“Repeated displacements, often involving the loss of their personal belongings, have taken a toll,” said Paul Castella, the ICRC’s head of delegation.

Castella said fighting has prevented relief supplies from reaching the refugees.

“Tens of thousands of displaced civilians are concentrated in an area so small that there are serious concerns for their physical safety and living conditions, in particular in terms of hygiene,” ICRC said.

A massive assault by Sri Lankan troops has left the Tigers cornered in their military stronghold in the northeast coastal district of Mullaittivu.

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