Sri Lanka: Ban deplores rising civilian death toll from ongoing fighting

Injured civilian fleeing combat zone in the Vanni pocket is carried ashore by Sri Lankan Navy personnel

5 March 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today strongly deplored the mounting civilian death toll in areas of fighting between Sri Lankan Government forces and Tamil rebels, and called for an immediate halt to the fighting.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported today that conditions for people confined in the war zone in the northern Vanni region deteriorated last month.

The conflict zone has shrank from 300 square kilometres to nearly 58 square kilometres in February, with many civilians – the UN puts their number at between 100,000 and 200,000 – taking refuge in a new 14-square kilometre ‘no-fire zone.’

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban repeated his call to the Sri Lankan Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to “suspend hostilities for the purposes of allowing civilians to leave the conflict zone, and allowing immediate humanitarian access to them.”

Further, he appealed to the LTTE to take its weapons and fighters out of areas where there are many civilians, cooperate in humanitarian efforts and instantly end recruiting children, some as young as 13 years of age, as soldiers.

According to OCHA, civilians continue to lose their lives within the war zone, as well as in the no-fire area which has suffered shell strikes. The world body has no verifiable numbers due to lack of access for relief workers, but estimates that thousands have been killed and wounded.

The no-fire zone is believed to be very squalid and overcrowded, and the UN has received information that people are dying from lack of food. The conditions there could lead to outbreaks of malaria, dengue fever and measles, and a chicken pox outbreak has already been reported.

OCHA said that the LTTE has prevented civilians from leaving the war zone, with people consistently reporting that the rebel group has killed family members trying to cross the front lines and forcibly moving civilians.

The UN has called for $155 million for humanitarian needs in Sri Lanka’s north and east to help those caught in fighting and those who have fled hostilities.

The Secretary-General today also urged the Government to begin “serious” efforts to resolve the underlying causes of the conflict.


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