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Situation deteriorating in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, March 18 (UPI) -- The International Committee of the Red Cross is raising concerns about the deteriorating situation in Sri Lanka and the desperate need to evacuate civilians.

The Sri Lankan army's ongoing military campaign targeting the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north of the country has greatly diminished the size of a government-established zone to protect civilians in the region. As combat continues, civilians are increasingly in harm's way, the committee reported.

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Paul Castella, the committee's delegation head in Colombo, Sri Lanka, said Tuesday that civilians have been trying to escape to the sea, but a growing LTTE presence along the coast is blocking the escape. Castella said that despite the U.N. World Food Program and the ICRC's opportunities to deliver aid, the size of humanitarian need is far greater than supplies available.

"The humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day," Castella said in a statement.

"Many of these people are forced to shelter in trenches. They are in considerable physical danger. After having been forced to move from place to place en masse for weeks or even months, they depend entirely on food from outside the conflict area."

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The ICRC is calling on the Sri Lankan government and leaders in LTTE to halt hostilities and allow the estimated 150,000 to 180,000 civilians to evacuate.

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