Lanka navy kills 5 Tiger suicide squad members
Sri Lanka's navy killed five Tamil Tiger suicide squad members as they tried to mingle with refugees fleeing to government-controlled areas in the north, the defence ministry said yesterday.
A navy patrol craft detected a rebel boat among three other boats carrying 54 civilians on Sunday.
"The navy believes that the LTTE's (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) intention here was to mix with troops on land on the sly and inflict a huge devastation on them," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the first shipment of medical supplies in two weeks has been sent to the last remaining major health facility in Sri Lanka's war zone and 500 civilians have been evacuated from danger, the Red Cross said yesterday.
A lack of medicine and supplies has been blamed by the area's top health official for causing the needless deaths of hundreds of hospital patients caught in the all-out offensive the government has launched against Tamil Tiger rebels in hopes of ending the island's 25-year-old civil war.
The supplies arrived in the war zone on the northeast coast Sunday aboard the "MV Green Ocean," said Sophie Romanens, a Colombo spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
She did not know how large the shipment was, but said the ship returned with 500 patients and family members.
The Red Cross and other international groups have voiced concern recently for the civilians trapped in the last remaining rebel territory. The rebel holdouts along with tens of thousands of terrified civilians are confined to about 28 square kilometres of jungle and beach on the northeastern coast.
The U.N. says 150,000 to 180,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone. The government says the figure is much lower, and accuses the Tamil rebels of using the people as human shields.
Romanens said there had been an influx of displaced people into the coastal strip near the medical facility and that there was not enough clean water and food for them.
Last week, in a letter to the Health Ministry, officials from two northern Sri Lankan regions hit by the war said just 5 percent of the needed drugs and dressings had been received in the last quarter of 2008 and the first part of this year.
The letter said more than 500 patients had died since January after arriving at hospitals and that thousands more may have died elsewhere in the area.
On Sunday the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) evacuated 493 patients and their relatives by sea from the northeast area of Puttumattalan to government-controlled areas in the north.
The military said that since fighting intensified in January nearly 50,000 people have fled the war zone, including more than 1,000 on Saturday.
There was no immediate comment from the LTTE.
The military says the Tigers have fewer than 500 fighters left and are about to lose their decades-long armed campaign for an independent Tamil homeland on the majority Sinhalese island.