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Humanitarian Situation in Sri Lanka Deteriorating

The World Food Program warns renewed fighting in Sri Lanka's long-running civil war is worsening the humanitarian situation for hundreds of thousands of civilians. The U.N. agency is calling for more money and better access and security for aid workers trying to help thousands of people displaced by the fighting. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The World Food Program reports about 400,000 people either displaced or affected by Sri Lanka's civil war are in need of food aid. But, reaching the victims is difficult.

WFP Spokeswoman, Christiane Bertiaume says many people have been displaced several times by the fighting.

She says they go back home to Batticaloa when things calm down, only to flee again when fighting resumes.

She says the WFP is working to increase food deliveries in Batticaloa District to make sure basic food supplies reach those people who were forced out of their homes during the past two months of fighting. She says the agency needs an additional $10.7 million in additional aid during the next six months.

"We have big problems in Sri Lanka. We have an access problem to the most vulnerable people in the north and in the east of the country," said Bertiaume. "We have got security problems for our local and international staff. Some of them have even been threatened. The distribution of food is too slow in many places. We should be able to do that more quickly. And, more particularly in the region of Jaffna where our stock are very, very low."

The U.N. food agency says it wants to ship one-thousand metric tons of food to the Jaffna Peninsula, which is cut off from the rest of the country. The town of Jaffna is under government control, but rebels operate in the area. The WFP has not been granted the necessary permission nor guarantees of security to send a relief vessel.

Renewed fighting during the past two months has displaced more than 150,000 people in the eastern part of the island country. The Sri Lankan government recently began resettling about 90,000 of these people to the homes they fled in West Batticaloa.

U.N. refugee spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says they are expected to move back to their places of origin in the coming months in a phased operation.

"UNHCR is fully involved in this process and our staff monitoring the situation on the ground are saying that the majority of people are eager to return home, that the returns are voluntary and in line with international protection standards," she said.

Aid workers fear some of these people may be returning home against their will. They point to reports of forced returns during a similar resettlement program further north earlier this month.

Pagonis says the U.N. agency will continue to monitor these returns to make sure they are voluntary.