Sri Lanka: Ban welcomes civilians’ escape from conflict zone

20 April 2009

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today welcomed the escape of tens of thousands of civilians from the conflict zone in north-eastern Sri Lanka, where they had been trapped in fighting between Government troops and rebel separatist Tamil forces.

However, Mr. Ban remains deeply concerned about the fate of the civilians who remain in the conflict zone and the potential for large-scale casualties, according to a statement attributable to his spokesperson.

While condemning the army’s continued use of heavy weapons in the so-called no-fire zone, a 14-square kilometre area in the Vanni region, he deplored “the use of force by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in preventing the departure of civilians from the conflict zone.”

In the light of the latest outflow of displaced persons, the UN and its partners are intensifying efforts to provide humanitarian assistance.

“It is now imperative for UN staff to be allowed into the conflict zone to facilitate relief operations and the evacuation of civilians,” the Secretary-General noted.

He stressed that humanitarian agencies must be allowed to assess needs and bring in adequate relief supplies and they must also be allowed to have full access to screening centers.

Aid groups have been preparing to receive large numbers of new internally displaced persons (IDPs), in addition to around 65,000 already in makeshift camps after fleeing combat.

According to the UN, there are adequate supplies – food, non-food and shelter –to cover the expected new arrivals, with the World Food Programme (WFP) pre-positioning food in Vavuniya, Mannar, Jaffna and Trincomalee in northern Sri Lanka.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stressed the need to need to bolster hospital resources, provide additional mobile teams and strengthen disease control measures for arriving IDPs, who are expected to have higher levels of malnutrition.

OCHA noted that water is being supplied to camps in the area by tankers until sufficient infrastructure is in place.

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