May 7, 2009 / 5:37 PM / in 10 years

ICRC ferries sick and wounded from Sri Lanka war zone

Tamil civilians stand next to their huts in a refugee camp located on the outskirts of the town of Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka May 6, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated 495 sick and wounded people and their helpers by ferry from a northeastern Sri Lanka war zone on Thursday, its first medical evacuation in a week due to heavy fighting.

Dozens of people requiring treatment still need evacuation from the tiny coastal area where thousands of civilians remain trapped, the neutral humanitarian agency said.

“Heavy fighting is taking place near the medical assembly point at Mullavaikkal, which puts the lives of patients, medical workers and ICRC staff at great risk,” said Jacques de Maio, the ICRC head of operations for South Asia. “This hampers medical evacuations of wounded civilians and their families.”

“Not all the wounded could be evacuated today (Thursday), and it is of the utmost importance that more evacuations take place over the coming days,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s government says it is fighting the closing battles of a 25-year war against the Tamil Tiger separatists.

The ferry also delivered 25 metric tonnes of food provided by the U.N.’s World Food Programme, along with medicines, according to the ICRC statement.

Supplies will be distributed to thousands of civilians still trapped within the conflict zone, it said.

The ICRC has evacuated more than 13,000 people from Sri Lanka’s conflict area by boat since Feb. 10.

Fishermen usually bring the sick and wounded to the ferry anchored offshore. Evacuees and their families are taken to Trincomalee and Pulmoddai, in government-controlled areas.

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