FOR Jaffna's thousands of war-weary civilians fleeing the northern battle zone, there appears to be little refuge and less hope. Driven from their homes and faced with an acute shortage of food, some may starve unless emergency supplies reach the embattled peninsula within a week. Churches, temples, schools and abandoned buildings are packed with villagers. Nearly 400,000 terrified victims were caught up in one of the nation's most vicious bloodbaths as a new phase in the war engulfed their villages. They keep pouring into improvised refugee camps, carrying a few meagre possessions. Problems of chronic overcrowding and acute food shortages are being compounded by heavy monsoonal rains. They have left behind their homes, farms and livestock in a war that has intensified with heavy mortar shelling. And the mass panic continues as people terrified of being caught up in the crossfire flee the battle areas. The war has hit them with a devastating fury and they have virtually nowhere to run. Thousands of homes have been destroyed by the shelling as government troops begin a big push into rebel territory. Several public buildings that remain have been turned into disaster centres. The survivors face a life of deadly unpredictability. For them there is a razor's edge between devastation from a raging battle and safety just outside its path. For many of the panic-stricken villagers, the journey to safer areas has not been successful. Thousands have died on the way, many caught up in the crossfire and others becoming victims in the large unmarked minefields of the rebels. But the scores of abandoned and orphaned children are the ones who evoke most empathy among relief workers. The older ones are begging and scavenging in and around the camps, although there is precious little to scavenge. Ironically, they are a people exiled in their own territory, which has been turned into a war-torn wasteland.