Ban welcomes escape of Sri Lankans from conflict zone

April 21st, 2009 - 2:53 am ICT by IANS  

New York, April 21 (DPA) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Monday welcomed the escape of at least 35,000 civilians from the Tamil rebel-held areas in northeastern Sri Lanka.
But Ban said he was worried about the fate of civilians who remain in the conflict zone and the continuing potential for a blood bath.

“It is now imperative for UN staff to be allowed into the conflict zone to facilitate relief operations and the evacuation ofcivilians,” Ban said.

Earlier Monday, an estimated 35,000 civilians reportedly fled the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebel-held areas, where government troops and the navy mounted a massive operation aimed at evacuating the zone, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said in Sri Lanka.

As civilians were escaping by land and sea, Tamil rebels set off three suicide bombs that killed at least 17 civilians including women and children, and injured 200 others in the Puthumathalan area, 390 kilometres north-east of the capital, he said.

In New York, Ban condemned the Sri Lankan Army’s continued use of heavy weapons in the so-called 14-sq-km no-fire zone. He also condemned the “use of force by the LTTE in preventing the departure of civilians from the conflict zone.”

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