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Sri Lanka asks for aid as civil war toll climbs

SRI Lanka pleaded for international help yesterday in what it called an "emergency humanitarian situation," after a medical team warned that civilian casualties are rising rapidly in the country's war zone despite the exodus of more than 100,000 in recent days.

Red Cross spokeswomen Sarasi Wijeratne said Wednesday that about 1,000 badly wounded people were in desperate need of treatment or evacuation to better hospitals outside the conflict zone. Only two ill-equipped makeshift hospitals function in the tiny zone.

The United Nations estimates more than 4,500 civilians have been killed the past three months, and the Security Council expressed concern Wednesday at the plight of the civilians trapped in the tiny coastal strip still controlled by the Tamil Tigers. The council asked the rebels to lay down their arms, renounce terrorism and join talks to end the nation's 25-year civil war.

It also urged the government to allow international agencies access to those affected by the fighting.

But despite its calls for help caring for those fleeing, the government did not say if it would let aid groups into the war zone. Since September, only the International Committee of the Red Cross has had access.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama did say, however, that the government was working to grant more access to those who had left the constantly shrinking strip of land - which now measures just 12 square kilometers and is packed with 15,000 civilians to 20,000 civilians.

It says 102,790 civilians escaped the conflict zone so far this week. Bogollagama called the flow of people from the region in the past few days an "emergency humanitarian situation."

"Our friends in the international community are most welcome to provide emergency relief assistance by way of semi-permanent shelter, water purification plants, sanitation facilities and medical assistance," he told reporters.

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said a growing number of badly wounded civilians suffering from blast injuries and gunshot wounds were arriving at a hospital near the zone.

"We've been seeing very severely wounded patients, the numbers of patients have increased rapidly over the last three or four days," Dr Paul McMaster, a surgeon for Doctors Without Borders, said in an interview released by the Swiss-based group.


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