COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Fighting between Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels and security forces has driven at least 204,000 people from their homes in the eastern and northern parts of the country, the UN food agency said yesterday.
The figure rose from about 182,000 to 204,000 in just a week and the numbers are still increasing, Jeff Taft-Dick, country director of the World Food Program, told reporters. He cited the most recent figures from the UN's refugee agency.
The announcement came as an aid ship carrying 1,500 tons of food docked in Jaffna, where it was expected to take several days to unload. It was the first outside source of food to reach the besieged peninsula in nearly two weeks.
UN agencies have put together an emergency contingency plan that predicts another 200,000 people will flee the fighting by the end of the year, Taft-Dick said.
Small-scale skirmishes between Tamil Tiger separatists and security forces have been on the rise since December, but in June the military launched its first ground offensive since a 2002 cease-fire .
Much of the fighting has revolved around the government-controlled eastern port of Trincomalee and the Jaffna Peninsula, which the country's 3.2 million ethnic minority Tamils consider the heart of their culture .
Taft-Dick said there were still many areas that aid agencies have not been able to reach.
``We still don't know how many internally displaced people there really are," he said.
Since Aug. 11, the government has restricted access to the Vanni, a wide swath of Tiger territory in the north where about 37,000 people are living in temporary shelters after fleeing fighting in the northern Jaffna Peninsula.
Taft-Dick said the food situation is becoming ``critical" and aid agencies are unable to move relief supplies into the area because of government road blocks.