Where: Vavuniya, Sri Lanka

January 30, 2009 : The Sri Lankan army has been engaged in fierce fighting with the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’s (LTTE) forces. In the first weeks of 2009, the army took control of the main rebel bases of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. The LTTE is a militant group that formed in 1976, and their campaign to carve out an independent state for the minority Tamil population in the country’s northern region led to a raging civil war. There was a cease fire in 2002, but fighting resumed in 2006.

The United Nations and the International Red Cross have expressed concern at the plight of the nearly 250,000 people trapped in a 250 sq-km area which is under intense fighting. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the last ten days’ fighting, many of them little children and babies, according to the United Nations’ children’s agency UNICEF. Aid workers have been injured and hospitals and ambulances have been hit by fire.

The Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has ruled out a ceasefire even as humanitarian organisaions worldwide are making appeals for one. His government has appealed to the Tamil Tigers to allow safe passage to the 250,000 civilians in the conflict zone. The Tigers claim that the civilians want to stay in their area for protection. On Thursday, however, aid agencies could remove hundreds of wounded civilians, including 50 children, to a hospital in Vavuniya town.