Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the declaration of a two-day ceasefire by the Government of Sri Lanka to allow emergency humanitarian aid to reach thousands of civilians caught up in its conflict with separatist rebel Tamil forces in the north of the country.
The United Nations estimates that approximately 150,000 to 190,000 innocent people are trapped in the conflict zone in the northern Vanni region of the South Asian island nation.
Unconfirmed reports suggested that hundreds of civilians have been injured in the 14-square kilometre area of the Vanni region designated as a no-fire zone, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said earlier this week.
While some civilians have been able to leave or escape the area, reliable reports indicated to the UN that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have prevented others from leaving, including by firing at them.
In his message today, Mr. Ban called on the LTTE to “take concrete and immediate steps to protect civilians by respecting the pause, for its full duration,” and allow civilians to leave the conflict zone.
Even though the Government's two-day truce was less than the several-day humanitarian pause Mr. Ban had been advocating, he said it was a “useful first step” and “an opportunity to move towards the peaceful and orderly end to the fighting now so badly needed.”
“The United Nations has been in discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka and other concerned parties in recent months and weeks to explore ways in which the suffering of innocent people in the Vanni region can be brought to an end or lessened,” Mr. Ban said, adding that he has talked personally with President Mahinda Rajapakse.
The Secretary-General stressed that the UN “will do whatever it can to support this humanitarian pause and help end the grave predicament of civilians in the conflict zone, including through the provision of more aid to those still trapped in the zone.”