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Sri Lanka: Ban urges Government, rebels to assure safe passage for trapped civilians

Sri Lanka: Ban urges Government, rebels to assure safe passage for trapped civilians

Internally displaced people wait for aid at a distribution point in eastern Sri Lanka
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged the Government and rebels in Sri Lanka to do everything in their power to effectuate the safe passage that has been promised for some 250,000 civilians trapped in the area of intense fighting in the north of the island country.

“[Mr. Ban] urges the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to do all in their power to make this safe passage a reality, and to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law,” according to a statement issued by his spokesperson.

The Secretary-General welcomed President Mahinda Rajapaksa''s announcement of safe passage for the trapped civilians but expressed continued concern for their welfare because of their proximity to the ongoing combat.

Yesterday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a statement of alarm over rapidly deteriorating conditions in the area where the civilians are caught, involving casualties, alleged human rights abuses and massive displacement.

Through day''s statement, Mr. Ban called on the LTTE to allow civilians in the conflict zone to move to where they feel most secure, including areas controlled by the Government.

He also called on the Government to ensure that those civilians arriving from conflict areas are treated in accordance with international standards, including guarantees for their freedom of movement, provision of basic services, and full access to humanitarian agencies.

“On its part, the United Nations stands ready to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Ban''s spokesman stressed, underlining also the need for urgent steps toward a speedy and orderly end to the fighting.