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Sri Lanka: Mob Stones Red Cross Office

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The main office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was stoned by a mob today in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Although no one was hurt, the angry group of about 200 shouted at the Red Cross to leave Sri Lanka after they allegedly scared the country by ordering 35,000 body bags for civilians killed during the ongoing violence between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels, reports the Times of London.

About 200 protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombo around noon, chanting slogans such as "ICRC go home!" and smashing several windows with stones.

No one was hurt, but the incident highlighted the sensitivity surrounding the issue of civilian casualties as the army presses ahead with its campaign to defeat the Tigers and bring a permanent end to the island's 25-year civil war.

India's The Hindu reports on the incident:

The attack came within hours of erstwhile leader of Janatha Vimukthi Perumana Wimal Weerawansa being quoted by local media as saying ICRC station chief in Colombo, Paul Castella, should be deported for making exaggerated statements on the plight of the civilians in the war zone.

The military claimed that the civilians from LTTE-held areas continued to arrive in government areas. However, the number of those who have turned up at government welfare centres in the last one week is negligible compared to the over 1.2 lakh civilians -- as per government estimates -- who remain trapped in the battle zone. The LTTE and the government have not heeded requests from different parts of the globe for a halt in hostilities to enable safe passage of these civilians.

The Daily News, Sri Lanka's National Newspaper, reports on Weerwansa remarks:

Addressing a press conference in Colombo yesterday, Weerawansa said the [head of the] ICRC ... was trying to create a false international impression to the effect that security operations carried out against terrorists now restricted to a small area in the North was causing genocide among civilians.

When damage to civilian life during large scale security operations in the East and the North was minimal in the past, importing of 35,000 body bags at a time when operations were restricted to a small area in the Vanni clearly proved the ICRC head's sinister motives, Weerawansa said.

The Daily Mirror explains the ICRC's response to their body bag order:

In response to the government charges, the ICRC said that they had placed an order for body bags, but that it had been done some time ago.

"It is a routine order, and we placed it some time back," said ICRC Spokesperson Sarasi Wijeratne, adding: "this is in order to transport the bodies of fighters who get killed in battle."

Times of London also reports on the increasingly severe situation in Sri Lanka:

The ICRC, the United Nations and various human rights groups have expressed concern about the safety of an estimated 250,000 civilians trapped with the rebels in a 66-square mile patch of northeastern jungle. Britain, the United States and several other foreign governments have called for a ceasefire.

But the government has rejected their appeals, accusing the Tigers of using civilians as human shields, and blaming Western diplomats, journalists and aid workers for "sensationalising" civilian casualties.

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