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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK

World: South Asia

Rebels urged to resolve supply row

The frontline lies between Mankulam and Kilinochchi

By Susannah Price in Colombo

The Sri Lankan government has called on the Tamil Tigers to respond to its latest offer to open a new route to allow food and medical aid to be taken to the rebel-controlled area.

The road previously used to bring in government rations and allow patients to go to government hospitals was closed nearly a month ago because of fighting in the area.

The Tigers rejected the suggestion of opening a new route on the main road to Jaffna through the five kilometre no-man's land.

The Tamil Tiger area known as the Wanni is home to more than 150,000 displaced people, as well as the local population, according to official figures.

Most of these are dependent on the monthly rations of rice, flour and sugar sent by the government in convoys of trucks.

Since the road was closed on 26 June, the supplies have been lying in the town of Vavuniya.

Government says food available

The Tamil Tigers claimed that more than half a million people were facing the spectre of starvation.

However, the deputy commissioner of essential supplies, Upali Desoysa, said they were sending money to the government agents in the Wanni to buy local produce.

He said they had heard that lentils and other items were still available from local traders, but couldn't say how long they would last or the situation of those not receiving food aid.

Neutral zone under discussion

Meanwhile, the military spokesman said they were waiting for the Tigers' response to their proposal to set up a five-kilometre civilian security zone, or no-man's-land, on the road to the west of the government held town of Mankulam.

The Tigers rejected an earlier suggestion for a similar setup on the A9 to the north, saying it could encourage the army to embark on a new operation.

However, the spokesman said this was a bargaining position and the military could be flexible.

But in spite of calls from aid agencies and demonstrations by civilians, there seems to be little sign of the two sides coming any closer to an agreement to open a new route.

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