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Page last updated at 21:37 GMT, Saturday, 14 March 2009

Vital Lanka clinic 'could close'

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News, Colombo

Military handout of troops on patrol in north-eastern Sri Lanka, 10 March 2009
Sri Lanka's army is trying to take over rebel strongholds in the area

The last major medical facility in Tamil-held territory has almost stopped functioning due to a medicine shortage, a Sri Lankan health official says.

Dr T Varatharaja says the closure of the hospital would put the lives of thousands of sick and injured people in the conflict zone at extreme risk.

His warning comes amid increasing international concern for civilians caught in fighting in the north-east.

Sri Lanka's army is trying to take over rebel strongholds in the area.

It is estimated that between 70,000 and 200,000 civilians are caught up in the conflict zone.

Dr T Varatharaja said there was a severe shortage of essential medicine, which was forcing the hospital to shut down most of its operations.

However, a senior Sri Lankan government official said some of the medicine requested by the hospital had already been sent to the nearest major town and would be delivered once the defence ministry authorised the move.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has been warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the conflict zone in north-eastern Sri Lanka and has called for a mass evacuation of civilians.

The government maintains that it has continued to send food and medicine to the people inside the rebel-controlled territory and rejects allegations of a possible catastrophe.

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