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Red Cross scales back work in Sri Lanka

July 9, 2009

BBC – Red Cross scales back work in Sri Lanka

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it has been told by Colombo to scale back in Sri Lanka.

“They have communicated that the war is now over,” a spokesman told the BBC, referring to years of bloody conflict between troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.

The news comes amid continuing concern over the fate of hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the war.

In the last months of fighting, tensions rose between the ICRC and the government over the fate of civilians.

The ICRC was the only outside agency with access to the area of combat, taking in aid and evacuating wounded people by ship.

Government troops defeated the rebels in the east in mid-May after months of heavy fighting.

The full scale of casualties is still disputed – hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and are now in government-run camps.

‘Outstanding issues’

As a first step the ICRC says it is to pull staff out of the Eastern Province “while winding down operations in the area”.

ICRC spokesman Simon Schorno told the BBC the ICRC had to respect the government’s decision.

He said: “Two sub-delegations are closing, Batticaloa and Trincomalee. A total of 140 national staff and about 10 expatriates worked in these offices.”

The Tamil Tigers were driven from Batticaloa and Trincomalee two years ago and the area has been relatively peaceful since then.

It is not clear what will happen to the ICRC’s presence in other parts of the north and east which saw more recent fighting.

Mr Schorno said: “There are still outstanding issues which we will discuss with the government.”

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