A major United Nations food convoy headed for northern Sri Lanka was today forced to turn back because of fresh fighting in the area between Government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The UN will seek renewed security assurances from both sides before attempting to make the route tomorrow morning, the world body’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, said in a statement from Colombo, the capital.
The convoy – the second to be dispatched in as many weeks – had been headed for the northern area known as the Vanni in a bid to reach an estimated 230,000 civilians who have been displaced behind the lines of confrontation in the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.
Comprised of 50 trucks, the World Food Programme (WFP) convoy was carrying 750 tons of food when it left the town of Vavuniya at lunchtime, and it was expected to reach its destination by this evening.
Intensified clashes between the military and LTTE members in recent weeks have displaced tens of thousands of people and sparked warnings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials about the humanitarian impact on civilians.
Earlier this month at least 27 people were killed and scores more were wounded in a suicide bomb attack on the offices of one of Sri Lanka’s opposition parties in the north-central town of Anuradhapura.
A correspondent of Sirasa TV, Rashmi Mohamed, was among the people killed in the attack, which was condemned today by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The agency’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura described the attack as cowardly.
“In view of UNESCO’s mandate regarding the fundamental human right of freedom of expression and freedom of speech, I must draw particular attention to the unacceptable killing of journalist Rashmi Mohamed,” he said.
“In doing so, I wish to honour journalists and other media workers, who, when exercising their profession that contributes to ensuring greater transparency, accountability and participation in democratic processes, put their lives at risk. It is essential that every possible step be taken to improve the safety of journalists.”