15 April 2009 At the end of a two-day humanitarian pause in Sri Lanka’s military offensive against separatist rebel Tamil forces, the head United Nations humanitarian official today said the ceasefire was inadequate in easing the plight of more than 100,000 civilians caught up in the conflict.
“It’s clear that 48 hours was not long enough to allow us to get in significant amounts of aid, or indeed to allow visits by humanitarian workers to the area,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters in New York, warning of the possibility of a “blood bath” on the beaches of the South Asian island nation.
“Unfortunately, it is also clear that not only did this not allow more civilians to get out, there seemed to be less civilians getting out during the pause than before.”
According to Mr. Holmes, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) prevented civilians trapped in the designated no-fire zone – a 14-square kilometre area in the northern Vanni region of Sri Lanka – from leaving during the ceasefire.
“Civilians should not be used as pawns or human shields in this way,” he stressed, calling on the LTTE to allow safe passage out of the no-fire zone to those who wish to leave.
Mr. Holmes, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said he would have liked a “longer humanitarian pause and preferably one agreed by both sides for more days than two,” a sentiment shared by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon according to a statement issued over the weekend.
The fighting has now resumed, according to the latest reports, and the Under-Secretary-General today called on the Government “to live up to the promises they made on repeated occasions not to use heavy weapons in this area,” which are among the “factors that is causing civilian casualties.”
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