The United Nations refugee agency expressed “outrage” today at the senseless killing of hundreds of civilians caught up in fighting between Sri Lankan forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in areas under rebel command, as it readied itself for thousands of displaced.
As fighting rages in northern Sri Lanka, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partner agencies mobilized emergency humanitarian relief for up to 150,000 people escaping out of the conflict zones of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts into government-controlled areas.
“We are calling upon both the Government and the LTTE to halt indiscriminate fighting in close proximity to large concentrations of innocent people in the so-called safe zone,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told journalists in Geneva.
Mr. Redmond stressed that the safe zone is not mutually recognized by the combatants nor does it meet any of the necessary international prerequisites, leading to violations by both sides and putting the safety of some 250,000 trapped civilians at even greater risk.
“We are outraged by the unnecessary loss of hundreds of lives and the continued suffering of innocent civilians inside the LTTE-controlled areas,” said Mr. Redmond, adding that “without respect for international humanitarian law by both parties, the bloodshed will continue.”
UNHCR reported that more than 13,000 people displaced from conflict areas are being accommodated in several sites in the district of Vavuniya, the hub for emergency assistance in the north, as well as in Jaffna and the north-western district of Mannar.
“We have also received reports of another 5,000 people on the move who are expected to reach Vavuniya during the next 24 to 48 hours,” said Mr. Redomond, while calling on the LTTE “to allow the remaining civilian population trapped inside the conflict zone to move to areas where they feel safe.”
The agency has called on the Government to observe minimum standards at all these sites in line with international humanitarian principles.
UNHCR is constructing shelters and distributing non-food supplies with its partners at Vavuniya. Monitoring and assistance, including shelter construction, are also underway in IDP sites in the Mannar and Jaffna districts. Some 1,950 new arrivals are being accommodated in several sites in Jaffna and another 850 in the Mannar district.
Mr. Redmond also said that UNHCR condemned yesterday’s suicide attack on a registration centre for new IDP arrivals, which reportedly killed 10 civilians and wounded 40 others who were fleeing the violence and looking for safety in the Vanni region.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that the situation is quickly deteriorating in the Vanni region, which covers the administrative districts of Mannar, Mullaitivu and Vavuniya, due to intensified military operations and severe shortages of food and other basic supplies.
Some 19,800 people have now fled the area, an increase of almost 4,000 since yesterday, and are in IDP camps. Another 15,000 people are waiting to leave, but the great majority of those remaining are concentrated in the so-called safe zone, where UN staff and their dependents are staying.