02/02/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Vanni hospital hit: at least nine dead and dozens wounded

Overnight attack hospital of Puthukkudiyiruppu, in Mullaittivu district. Red Cross representative in Colombo: “It’s the second time in recent weeks”. Paediatrics and Gynaecology units are hit. Government and rebel troops accuse each other of attack.

Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Several artillery barrages struck a hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu, Mullaittivu districts, overnight, killing nine people and wounding dozens.

The hospital is one of very few operative in the Vanni area, the last enclave of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Ltte) in their battle against advancing government forces.

Paul Castella, head of the International Red Cross Red Crescent (ICRC) delegation in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo confirmed that there are over 500 patients in the hospital: “We're shocked that the hospital was hit and this for the second time in recent weeks”.

It is believed that two separate blasts hit the Paediatrics and Gynaecology units. The personnel of the United Nations on the round in Puthukkudiyiruppu reports dozens of wounded and infants and women among the dead.  ICRC and UN cannot confirm is the shelling was launched by government forces or rebels, both of whom are blaming each other for the attack.

Humanitarian organisations say at least 250 thousand civilians are trapped in the battle zone 300 square kilometres of jungle to the island’s east.

Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa claims that the military are in the “final stages” of the war against the rebels and plays down the number of displaced people to fewer than 120 thousand.

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