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Aid To Civilians In Sri Lanka

As the fighting intensifies in Sri Lanka, the situation has become desperate for some 250,000 civilians trapped in the war zone, and both warring sides are being urged to show concern for their plight.

For the past quarter century the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, a U.S.- designated foreign terrorist organization, has conducted a violent insurgency in pursuit of an independent homeland for the largely Hindu Tamil minority in the northern region of the country. In the course of the past few months, the Sri Lankan army has decimated the Tamil Tigers and forced them into an ever-shrinking patch of land in the North of the country.

Trapped in a sliver of land between the 2 armies are the mostly Tamil inhabitants of the area. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, or (ICRC) -- the only International aid organization permitted access to the conflict zone, "Hundreds of Tamils have been killed ... people are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling. ... The terrified population is in need of protection, medical care and basic assistance."

The Sri Lankan military has accused the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields, while the Tamil Tigers accuse the troops of indiscriminately shelling the war zone.

The international community demands that both sides pause operations long enough to allow the ICRC to evacuate wounded civilians and the U.N. to deliver food. The co-chairs of the Tokyo Conference for Reconstruction and Development of Sri Lanka - the European Union, Japan, the United States and Norway - said in a written statement that "The LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka should recognize that further loss of life - of civilians and combatants - will serve no cause."

In a joint statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Secretary David Milliband welcomed the statement by the Tokyo Co-chairs. "We call on both sides to allow food and medical assistance to reach those trapped in the fighting, cooperate with the ICRC to facilitate evacuation of urgent medical cases, and ensure the safety of aid and medical workers," they said. "The LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka must respect the international law of armed conflict."