Aid Group Makes Urgent Appeal for Sri Lankans as Humanitarian Crisis Worsens

An interdenominational Christian aid agency has appealed for urgent humanitarian relief for Sri Lankans amid reports of indiscriminate shelling and use of heavy weapons resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties last week.

In its appeal on Wednesday, the Barnabas Fund said a "major humanitarian crisis is unfolding in the north-east of Sri Lanka as the country's long civil war intensifies once more."

"More than 50,000 civilians, including many Christians, are trapped in the crossfire between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE). The Christians of Sri Lanka are also suffering persecution and the effects of natural disaster."

The aid agency noted that although the civil war is not a religious conflict, still it calls for concern, as "Christians comprise some 20 percent of the Tamil population, and about eight percent of the total."

"Four Christian workers were killed in the shelling at the end of April, and there are many Christians among the displaced in the camps. Others have lost family members. Still others do not know if their loved ones are alive or dead, or where they might be, as families have been scattered among different centers," the Barnabas Fund reported.

The relief agency is working in collaboration with the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL), which has been providing aid to displaced Christians in the camps.

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of Barnabas Fund, commented, "Members of our Christian family in Sri Lanka have seen and suffered terrible things in the current conflict. We stand with NCEASL in their desire and determination to help these people and all the suffering Christians of Sri Lanka. Please support us in this with your prayers and generosity."

According to the latest reports, 50 people were killed at a hospital after it was hit by artillery shells, forcing thousands of injured to duck for cover.

The shelling was so intense Wednesday that a Red Cross ferry waiting offshore to deliver food and evacuate the wounded had to turn back for a second day, according to the Human Rights Watch.

President Barack Obama on Wednesday demanded that the government stop shelling hospitals and that Tamil Tiger rebels cease using civilians as human shields.

He also cautioned that the situation could turn from a humanitarian crisis to a full-blown catastrophe.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday expressed "grave concern" at the "worsening humanitarian crisis" there.

The Security Council for the first time agreed to press the Sri Lankan authorities on the safety of civilians. The 15-member body voiced the concern after Amnesty International called for urgent U.N. action and a probe into "the mounting evidence of serious violations of international law."

The council members said in a statement that they "strongly condemn the LTTE for its acts of terrorism over many years" and urged the group "lay down its arms and allow the tens of the thousands of civilians to leave."