Sri Lanka mulls sea rescue of civilians in war zone

February 17, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka is considering a sea evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside its war zone, officials said on Tuesday as a government ally said there was a spike in non-combatant deaths. Some 80,000 civilians remain inside the northern Wanni region, where government troops have cornered the Tigers into a narrow strip along the northeastern shores.

“We are looking at all options, including a sea evacuation to bring the people out,” Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told reporters.

Samarasinghe said 35,745 people have crossed over to government-held areas since January 1, but many more are still trapped as Tigers prevent civilians from leaving the area.

The government on Tuesday began sending emergency food stocks by sea to those inside the conflict zone as heavy fighting between troops and Tigers have prevented food convoys being taken by road, Samarasinghe said.

His comments came as a pro-government Tamil political leader on Tuesday highlighted a spike in civilian fatalities in the embattled north this month.

The total for deaths last week was 288 while 766 were injured, said the leader of the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front, V. Anandasang