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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 11:24 GMT
Aid reaches trapped Sri Lankans
Security check in Colombo
The island now appears to be on a war footing
Aid destined for thousands of people cut off by heavy fighting in eastern Sri Lanka has finally begun to arrive.

About 60 lorries have reached the town of Vaharai with supplies, officials say. Aid agencies have been trying to get through for the past month.

The convoy had to turn back on Tuesday because of shelling between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Each side blames the other for the fighting, which has left about 30,000 people in desperate need of help.

'Desperate'

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra in Colombo says Vaharai was cut off after fighting escalated in the eastern district of Batticaloa last month.

Thousands of displaced people are taking refuge in schools and makeshift camps.

Sri Lankan soldiers patrol a section of the A9 highway

The UN says that the situation is "desperate", with many people not receiving any help since the end of October.

After weeks of negotiations, both the government and Tamil Tiger rebels had agreed to a temporary ceasefire on Tuesday.

A convoy of 100 trucks was to go in packed with food, medicine and fuel for the next month.

However after heavy fighting on Tuesday, the convoy was forced to stop and turn back.

The UN spokesperson, Orla Clinton, said that the people of Vaharai are trapped because of the fighting, and agencies need sustained and continuous access to help them.

Widening gulf

Tuesday's clashes came a day after rebel leader Prabhakaran said Tamils had "no option" but to push for an independent state.

On Tuesday, the government asked Norwegian mediators to clarify whether the island's peace process still exists after the Tiger leader said it was "defunct".

Commentators say that the current monsoon may give the rebels a military advantage over the army, because they are not so reliant on heavy artillery and armour which is harder to move in the rain.

Correspondents say that the fact that Prabhakaran's speech was totally ignored by Sri Lanka's government-owned newspapers is a sign of the widening gulf between the two sides.




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