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More UN officials deplore violence in Sri Lanka as toll on children rises

More UN officials deplore violence in Sri Lanka as toll on children rises

An exhausted displaced person being helped along
Reacting to a bombing in Sri Lanka on Monday that reportedly killed dozens of children and wounded many more, two senior United Nations officials added their voices to growing international calls for the Government and separatist rebels to lay down their arms and resume talks.

Statements deploring the violence by the head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the senior UN official dealing with children and armed conflict came one day after Secretary-General Kofi Annan raised the alarm about intensifying violence in Sri Lanka, including the weekend assassination of Ketheshwaran Loganathan, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Government Peace Secretariat and veteran Tamil human rights advocate.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman today called on both the Government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to “respect international humanitarian law and ensure children and the places where they live, study and play are protected from harm.”

According to press reports, as many as 40 adolescent girls were killed and some 100 children were wounded, many critically, when a compound in Vallipunam in the northern part of the country was bombed. Girls from various schools were staying overnight at the compound, attending a two-day course in first-aid.

UNICEF staff from a nearby office immediately visited the area to assess the situation and provide counselling services to those in need.

“The latest shocking developments in Sri Lanka show once again that children continue to bear the brunt of this conflict,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, calling on the parties to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table.

The LTTE continues to recruit children and use them in their fighting forces on the battlefield, she said in a statement released in New York.

Echoing Mr. Annan’s remarks yesterday, Ms. Coomaraswamy voiced support for the Co-Chairs of the “Tokyo process” – the European Union, United States, Norway and Japan – and reminding the parties that there is no military solution to this conflict.

“They should work toward reinstating the peace process to protect their people, especially children, from further hardship,” she said.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today that continued heavy fighting in the north and east of Sri Lanka has sent several thousand more civilians fleeing their homes in search of safety.

UNHCR is having difficulty helping refugees in the area, because freedom of movement is heavily restricted in many areas, complicating the agency’s efforts to deliver much-needed aid to civilians.

Since April, more than 128,800 people have been newly displaced within Sri Lanka, including more than 50,000 who fled since the flare-up of violence in Muttur and its surrounding areas in Trincomalee District in early August. A further 6,600 Sri Lankans have fled across the border to Tamil Nadu in India since the beginning of the year.

UN agencies are preparing an assessment mission to Jaffna, where thousands of trapped families are unable to move freely. “Our offices are ready to distribute emergency packs, additional water jerry cans, water bladders and lanterns if required,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a press briefing in Geneva.

Many of the people who could get out of Jaffna District have begun making their way south to Killinochchi District, an area controlled by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), where the displaced are being assisted in schools and other communal centres, she said.

UNHCR and other partners have worked closely with the military and local authorities to secure safe passage to the LTTE-controlled area of Vaharai Division, allowing truckloads of food, medicine and other supplies to reach civilians affected by the fighting.

But access to Muttur and Eachchilampattu in Trincomalee District is still blocked, Ms. Pagonis said. “We and our partners are deeply concerned about the well-being of those still trapped in these areas, estimated to number around 15,000.”