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UN agency awaiting access to boat people rescued off Sri Lankan coast

UN agency awaiting access to boat people rescued off Sri Lankan coast

The United Nations refugee agency has lauded the Sri Lankan Government for rescuing 71 boat people who had been adrift at sea for nearly two weeks, and said it is now awaiting access to the survivors of the perilous voyage.

The group of 50 Myanmar nationals and 21 Bangladeshis had been adrift since 20 February after their boat encountered engine failure, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

“Twenty of those on board, including 17 Myanmar nationals and three Bangladeshis, reportedly died due to starvation and dehydration,” he said.

The boat was found adrift in high seas off Sri Lanka’s northern district of Mullaitivu. All of the victims are now receiving medical care at the naval base in eastern Trincomalee harbour.

Mr. Redmond commended the Government for allowing the survivors to disembark and providing them with assistance, noting that “aiding those in peril at sea is one of the oldest of maritime obligations.”

The agency is in close contact with Sri Lankan officials and is awaiting unhindered access to the survivors, once they are moved out of the restricted military zone where the naval base is situated and to a police- and civilian-administered area.

Meanwhile, the aid community in Sri Lanka yesterday issued a plan for humanitarian and early recovery assistance during 2008 which requires just over $146 million for 108 projects to be carried out by 38 organizations.

The Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP<.a>), issued by the Interagency Standing Committee Country Team in Sri Lanka, seeks to address the needs of communities that have been affected by the conflict between the Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that has engulfed the South Asian for nearly three decades.

The Plan includes assistance in the areas of food aid, shelter, camp management, protection, economic recovery and infrastructure, agriculture, health care, water and sanitation, education, and nutrition.

More than 70,000 people have lost their lives in the long-running conflict. Hundreds more, including at least 80 civilians, have been killed since the beginning of 2008. The Government withdrew from a 2002 ceasefire agreement with the LTTE in January.