Ban 'deeply distressed' at plight of civilians in northern Sri Lanka

Internally displaced persons on the move in Sri Lanka

3 April 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today reiterated the need to protect civilians trapped in the area of conflict between the Government and Tamil rebels in northern Sri Lanka, voicing concern at reports of heavy casualties, restrictions on movement and forced recruitment, especially of children.

“The Secretary-General is deeply distressed by continuing reports from the Vanni region of Sri Lanka that civilians are at extreme risk, with heavy casualties, and that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are keeping civilians in a very small area of active conflict against their will,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

The UN estimates that approximately 150,000 to 190,000 civilians are trapped in the nearly 58-square-kilometre conflict zone. While some civilians have been able to leave or escape, the world body said that reliable reports indicate that the LTTE have prevented others from leaving, including by firing at them.

“The Secretary-General calls upon the LTTE leadership to allow civilians to leave the conflict area of their own free will. The severe restrictions of the LTTE on their freedom of movement violate international law,” the statement said, adding that Mr. Ban also deplores the forced recruitment of civilians, particularly children.

“At the same time, the Secretary-General again reminds the Government of Sri Lanka of its responsibility to protect civilians, and to avoid the use of heavy weapons in areas where there are civilians, as promised,” according to today's statement.

The Government should receive and treat internally displaced persons (IDPs) in accordance with international law, and work closely with the UN in meeting their protection and physical needs, the world body added.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today that it continues to receive reports of shelling, mortar fire and aerial attacks in the so-called “no fire” zone in the Vanni region.

By the end of March, nearly 58,378 people had crossed from conflict areas, and are accommodated in IDP camps in Vavuniya, while another 8,204 IDPs have gone to Trincomalee.

More than 3,700 emergency shelters have been constructed so far and are occupied by IDPs in Vavuniya, according to OCHA. Agencies assisting the displaced persons report that stocks of hospital kits are running low and that there are still significant gaps in providing clothing.

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