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Sri Lanka: continuing conflict sparks UN concern over fate of children

Sri Lanka: continuing conflict sparks UN concern over fate of children

Sri Lankan children
A senior United Nations official today expressed concern over the fate of thousands of children caught up in the conflict in Sri Lanka pitting Government forces against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said in a press release that she is worried about children who are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and child combatants used by the LTTE.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that around 230,000 people have been displaced due to intensified fighting in northern Sri Lanka during the second half of 2008.

Ms. Coomaraswamy urged the rebel group to allow children and their families to move away from conflict areas, and called on the Government to provide assistance in a way that respects their fundamental rights.

“Any camp set up for IDPs has to meet international standards,” she said. “The Government of Sri Lanka should work with international and local humanitarian actors to ensure their safety and security.”

Additionally, the Special Representative appealed to the LTTE to immediately release its child fighters.

She voiced hope that the Government will take part in talks on how to spare their lives, stressing that both authorities and humanitarian partners should prepare to separate these children and reintegrate them back into their families.

“We must not forget the children. They are the next generation and they must be protected as much as possible.”

Last week, the UN humanitarian chief said he is increasingly concerned for the well-being of tens of thousands of civilians caught up in the conflict raging in the northern Vanni area of Sri Lanka.

“As fighting surrounds the areas towards which families have been displaced, and with few choices about where to move, they are increasingly susceptible to harm due to the fighting,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said in a statement.

“While they have had access to basic food, in large part due to the Government and the UN assistance transported through the lines of fighting,” he said, “they have few, if any, reserves and the conditions of their basic shelter, water and sanitation are increasingly inadequate as many have been displaced multiple times over the last months, weeks and days.”