U.S. President Barack Obama says the humanitarian crisis caused by the decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka could become a catastrophe. The president is strongly urging both the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels to ease the people's suffering.
Officials in northern Sri Lanka say artillery shells hit the area's only remaining hospital Wednesday, killing at least 50 people.
President Obama says enough is enough.
"We have a humanitarian crisis that is taking place in Sri Lanka," said President Obama. "I have been increasingly saddened by the desperate news in recent days."
Mr. Obama says tens of thousands of civilians are trapped between government forces and the Tamil Tigers, with no means of escape, and little access to food, water, shelter and medicine.
Before leaving the White House for two days in the Southwestern U.S., the president demanded action from both sides. He is urging the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and let civilians go.
"Their forced recruitment of civilians and their use of civilians as human shields is deplorable," said Mr. Obama. "These tactics will only serve to alienate all those who carry them out."
And Mr. Obama said the Sri Lankan government, among other steps, needs to stop shelling hospitals.
"First, the government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including several hospitals," he said. "The government should live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone."
Mr. Obama also asked the government in Colombo to give the United Nations and Red Cross staff access to the nearly 200,000 displaced civilians.
The president said the United States is ready to help the Sri Lankan people. As he spoke, protesters outside the White House chanted for him to take action.