Condemning the latest attacks on civilians in strife-torn Sri Lanka, which left more than 20 dead and dozens maimed, the United Nations office on the island today called for their immediate protection and warned of worsening conditions in the east, where thousands of people remain trapped by the fighting between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
“The United Nations condemns the deliberate targeting of civilians and deplores the latest incidents involving two civilian buses which resulted in the deaths of over 20 innocent civilians with dozens maimed and injured,” the Office of the Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator said.
“The United Nations calls for the protection of all civilians throughout the island,” the statement added, warning also that the humanitarian situation in the eastern region of Vaharai is “grave and demands an urgent response,” with the Government estimating that 15,000 people are trapped without food. The last convoy of aid to get through to the area was on 29 November.
“We stand ready to assist those still trapped in Vaharai,” said Amin Awad, Acting Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. “These persons are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.”
Pointing out that the elderly, sick and disabled are most likely to remain behind, he said, “They are still without access to food, emergency medical services, and shelter, and continue to be caught in the middle of relentless fighting.”
The UN has already mounted an extensive operation supporting the Government through local authorities and partner agencies to protect and assist with the basic humanitarian needs of over 70,000 individuals across the district of Batticaloa, but it also underscored that both the authorities and the Tamil Tigers must protect civilians.
“The United Nations further reminds both parties of their obligations under International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, as expressed in the Security Council Resolutions on the Protection of Civilians and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,” the statement added.
This is the second time in less than a week that the UN has expressed concern at the increasing deaths of civilians in Sri Lanka, following an aerial bombardment on 2 January in which at least 14 people, including children, were killed in the north-west.
Fighting between Government troops and the LTTE has intensified since April last year, despite a ceasefire agreed in 2002 aimed at ending the conflict that has lasted for more than 20 years and claimed almost 70,000 lives.