The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says it expects a ship carrying urgently needed relief to the displaced and resident population of the Jaffna peninsula to arrive Thursday evening.  It says the boat, which left the Sri Lankan capital Colombo Tuesday, is carrying 1,500 tons of food, medicine, hygiene kits and other supplies.

This is a joint operation with supplies provided by the Sri Lankan government, the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross.  The Jaffna Peninsula has been cut off from the rest of the country during the recent fighting between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.   The ship sailing under the neutral Red Cross flag will bring the first aid for more than 12 days to the besieged population.

ICRC spokeswoman for Asia and the Pacific, Carla Haddad, says both parties to the conflict have provided security guarantees for the ship and the cargo.  She says the supplies will provide relief to both the resident and displaced populations.

"In Jaffna proper, the situation is quite tense," she said.  "The curfew is ongoing.  People cannot move from their houses.  And that is why we are so concerned about the overall nutritional situation.  They are blocked in their homes and we know that many families are approaching our office in Jaffna to report that they have been without any contact with the rest of their families in the valley.  So, because communications have been disrupted also, families are not in touch with their relatives in other parts of the country." 

Haddad says the Red Cross is trying to re-establish family links for people who have been separated or have lost contact with relatives. 

She says a second operation has hit a snag.  She says a ferry aimed at evacuating expatriates and vulnerable people from Jaffna was supposed to leave Trincomalee Thursday.  However, she notes the two parties to the conflict are still negotiating, what she calls, technicalities.

"The idea behind this ferry is that it goes from Trincomalee to Jaffna without any relief on it to evacuate the vulnerable population there," she added.  "It is not population - vulnerable people -sick, hospitalized, people who have emergency cases and some foreign persons who are in transit there.  So, the request came from the different embassies and also from people who would like to be evacuated for medical purposes." 

Haddad says the ferry can hold 150 people.  She says the Red Cross does not have any figures on the number of people who have been killed and wounded during the 12-day battle, but she says an estimated 40,000 people have been displaced.