Truckloads of food meant for Tamil refugees robbed in eastern Sri Lanka
Sat November 18, 2006 11:00 EST .
Associated Press Writer
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Hundreds of Sri Lankans Saturday overran a government convoy of food trucks, seizing supplies meant for tens of thousands of displaced ethnic Tamils in the country's rebel-controlled east, witnesses and the rebels said.
More than 40,000 people displaced in August by fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels are living in schools and temporary shelters in the rebel-held village of Vakarai, in eastern Batticaloa district.
They have faced an acute shortage of food since the main access road was closed last month after clashes intensified in the area.
The government sent eight truckloads of food to Vakarai, but the convoy was stopped by a mob, and five trucks were stripped of their cargo at Mankerni, the last government-controlled village before entering rebel territory, an eyewitness who traveled with the convoy told The Associated Press.
The remaining three trucks were able to reverse and returned to Batticaloa, the witness said, requesting anonymity for fear of retribution.
The witness said he believed ethnic Tamils from nearby displacement camps had robbed the trucks, but it was impossible to immediately confirm this.
An official at the government's Media Center for National Security said he had no information about the ambush.
A statement by the rebel's peace coordination agency said a Sinhalese mob had stolen the food and accused the Sri Lankan military _ the vast majority of whom are also Sinhalese _ of complicity in the ambush.
The ``Sri Lankan military and paramilitary stood guard as the Sinhala mobs looted the food,'' the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said in a statement e-mailed to the media.
Ethnic Sinhalese make up about 74 percent of Sri Lanka's 19 million people and dominate the government and armed forces.
Recent fighting between Tamil Tigers and government forces in eastern Sri Lanka has left scores of people dead, including at least 23 civilians who had sought shelter at a school on Nov. 8.
The Tigers have fought the government since 1983 demanding a self-ruled homeland for ethnic minority Tamils citing decades of discrimination by majority Sinhalese.
More than 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before a 2002 Norway-brokered cease-fire, that now appears on the verge of collapse amid near daily fighting.
Even though the two side claim to honor the truce, more than 3,200 combatants and civilians have been killed since December.
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Published: Sat Nov 18 18:37:04 EST 2006