Ban discusses protection of civilians with Sri Lankan leader, dispatches top aide

14 May 2009

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has once again expressed his concerns about the protection of civilians caught up in the conflict in Sri Lanka to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and has dispatched one of his top advisers to the South Asian nation.

During his telephone conversation yesterday with the Sri Lankan leader, Mr. Ban reiterated his concerns about the protection of civilians as fighting continues between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters in New York.

“As you will recall, the Secretary-General urged the Government of Sri Lanka to explore all possible options to bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed and to make public the terms under which that can be achieved without further loss of civilian life,” she said.

“He urged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to give sober and positive consideration of those terms.”

Ms. Okabe also announced that Mr. Ban is sending his Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, to Sri Lanka “to underscore his message and help to resolve the humanitarian situation there.”

Members of the Security Council yesterday expressed grave concern over the worsening crisis in northern Sri Lanka, in particular the reports of hundreds of civilian casualties in recent days, in a statement read out to the press by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, which holds the 15-member body’s rotating presidency for May.

They reiterated their support for the personal involvement of the Secretary-General, and urged the Government to extend full cooperation to the UN to resolve the humanitarian crisis.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that over 50,000 people remain in the conflict zone, while more than 198,000 people have managed to leave and crossed to Government-controlled areas. Of those, nearly 196,000 people are accommodated in temporary, overcrowded camps.

The UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, says conditions inside the camps are still “miserable,” owing to overcrowding and poor hygiene conditions. In addition, “they are dealing with an extremely fragile population who have been through a terrible time – certainly an intensely terrible time for the past three months,” he told UN Radio.

Aid agencies, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), have constructed 8,000 shelters and erected more than 9,000 tents to accommodate the new arrivals in the districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee. They are also carrying out regular distribution of non-food items and monitoring at the sites.

According to OCHA, the last food shipment to the conflict zone – a shrinking pocket of land on the northern coastline – was on 8 May, and civilians trapped in the area are in desperate need of food and supplies.

Earlier today, two ships of the International Committee of the Red Cross carrying 25 tons and 500 tons respectively of mixed food commodities were unable to discharge cargo in the conflict zone due to continuous heavy fighting.

 

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Security Council voices ‘grave’ concern over Sri Lanka humanitarian crisis

The Security Council today voiced its grave concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka and called for urgent action by all parties to ensure the safety of civilians.