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WFP: Thousands Face Food Crisis in Sri Lanka War Zone

The World Food Program warns hundreds of thousands of people, trapped by fighting in the northeastern Sri Lankan region of Vanni, are facing a food crisis. The Sri Lankan government is pressing its military campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels in the region. WFP says about one-quarter of a million people there are totally dependent on international aid agencies who are unable to gain access to the area.

Vanni is practically sealed off to the outside world. The United Nations says about 250,000 civilians are trapped there. It says they are caught in the fighting between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Hundreds of civilians reportedly have been killed and many wounded. Aid agencies say they are unable to bring essential relief supplies to the people. A World Food Program spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, says people are suffering from a critical shortage of food.

"At present, the entire population of the Vanni is facing a food crisis due to continuous displacement, crop failure and recent floods," she said. "Their livelihood is almost completely lost, exacerbating the food insecurity and their coping mechanisms have been exhausted. There is complete dependency on humanitarian and food assistance for their survival."

Casella says the WFP has sent 11 convoys into the area since September and this has kept about 230,000 people alive during this period. She calls the current situation particularly worrying.

She says the WFP wanted to send a food convoy into Vanni on Thursday, but was unable to get the necessary clearance from government officials.

"The authorities have said that they would permit a humanitarian window of about four hours on Thursdays to get food in," said Casella. "So, we were counting on that possibility. Our office in Sri Lanka is quite actively lobbying, obviously talking to whoever we can to see that there would be an opportunity for humanitarian activities to continue and that access be given so that the people who are trapped in this area are able to have food."

Casella notes the agency's last food convoy was able to get into the conflict zone on January 16. She says that food would have been enough for about one week.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for a separate nation for the past 25 years. Some 70,000 people have died in this conflict. In recent months, the Sri Lankan military has made important gains and the government claims that victory is at hand.

Vanni is at the center of the current fighting and evidence indicates that more and more civilians are being caught in the crossfire.