UN refugee agency steps up aid to Sri Lankans displaced by recent

Since Saturday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been helping many of the 21,000 Sri Lankans who have fled recent fighting in the town of Muthur, where 15 aid workers from French organization Action against Hunger were recently killed execution-style. The incident drew strong condemnation from UN officials that was echoed today by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis, who called the murders “a dark page in the history of humanitarian work in Sri Lanka.” With displaced people taking shelter mainly in schools and mosques, sporadic fighting is still reported to be going on around Muthur. UNHCR staff “can hear gunfire from time to time,” Ms. Pagonis said. The agency, working through local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has distributed 1,800 plastic sheets, 2,000 jerry cans and 2,000 mats to displaced people, and more aid is in the pipeline. But UNHCR has no access to Muthur, “where 4,000 people are said to be trapped, or to Eachchilanmpattai, where some 11,000 people are said to be in dire need of humanitarian help,” Ms. Pagonis reported. Before the latest outbreak of fighting between the Sri Lankan government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), more than 312,000 people had been displaced within Sri Lanka since 1983, some 67,000 of whom are being assisted by UNHCR.

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