Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels say tens of thousands of civilians
living in the small strip of land still under rebel control are facing
imminent starvation. The rebels accuse the government of blocking food
In a statement Saturday, the rebels said the situation could be deadlier than the humanitarian crisis in Darfur (in western Sudan), where a civil war has displaced millions.
A Sri Lankan Defense Ministry spokesman (Lakshman Hulugalle) tells VOA the rebels are to blame, saying they have been stealing the aid the government has sent for civilians.
The defense spokesman estimates up to 300 rebel combatants remain in the war zone. He says the military could destroy them within hours, but is holding back out of concern for civilians.
The rebels say there are 150,000 civilians trapped in the tiny war zone along the northeastern coast. That number is about three times larger than the United Nations estimates.
U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes has been dispatched to Sri Lanka to assess the situation.
The U.N. Security Council is urging Sri Lanka's government to cooperate with Holmes' visit. In a statement Friday, the Council said it also wants Sri Lanka to give the International Committee of the Red Cross access to displaced people.
The Group of Eight industrialized nations (the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Russia and Canada) Saturday accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields, and urged an immediate halt to hostilities.
Separately, the United States has expressed concern. On Friday, the White House released a statement urging both sides to immediately stop fighting to allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone.
The statement called on Sri Lanka's government to stop shelling the so-called safe zone and allow international aid groups and the media to have access to people who have managed to escape.
Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting for 26 years to create an independent homeland for ethnic Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka. Tens of thousands of people have been killed during the conflict.