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Page last updated at 17:21 GMT, Tuesday, 9 September 2008 18:21 UK

UN 'to relocate Sri Lanka staff'

UN camp for displaced people in Sri Lanka
The UN says the plight of civilians in the north is worsening

UN workers in the northern part of Sri Lanka controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels will be relocated following a government order, UN officials say.

They say that the relocations will begin soon following the government's statement on Monday that it could not guarantee the safety of aid workers.

The government says that it is on track to defeat the rebels in the north.

The UN announcement follows a government claim that a rebel bomber has been shot down for the first time.

The Tigers have denied they lost an aircraft and said the raid caused heavy damage.

Displaced people in Sri Lanka

"The UN acknowledges the announcement by the government of Sri Lanka that they can no longer guarantee the safety of aid workers... and their request that UN and non-governmental organisation (NGO) staff should relocate to government controlled territory," a UN statement said.

"The UN notes that the government of Sri Lanka holds primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of humanitarian workers."

UN spokesman Gordon Weiss told the BBC Sinhala service that there were about 70 UN national and international workers in areas of the north controlled by the Tamil Tigers.

He said that UN staff were mostly based in the town of Kilinochchi and were engaged in humanitarian work for displaced people.

Crushing

Aid agencies say there are nearly 160,000 people in the Tiger-controlled north who have been displaced by the fighting

Sri Lankan soldiers
The army says it is on the verge of victory

The International Red Cross (ICRC) - one of the most prominent international agencies in the north - said that its teams were committed to remain in both rebel and government-held areas.

But an ICRC spokesman said that situation was being monitored and negotiations are currently underway with the government in Colombo.

Correspondents say that part of the problem for some aid agencies in the north is that their staff cannot leave because they are Tamil locals and the rebels will not issue them with passes.

The military meanwhile say that its offensive aimed at crushing the rebels and ending their fight for a separate state for the Tamil minority is on course.

The Ministry of defence said that it shot down a rebel plane on Tuesday after 12 soldiers and a policemen were killed during a Tamil Tiger attack on a base in the northern area of Vavuniya.

The Tigers say 10 of their suicide fighters were killed in the raid.

They say that the raid was backed by artillery and light aircraft dropping bombs and that a radar station was destroyed in extensive damage to the base.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for a separate state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of Sri Lanka for 25 years. More than 70,000 people have died.


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