Rajapaksa invites UN chief to Sri Lanka to assess situation (Lead)

May 6th, 2009 - 2:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, May 6 (IANS) Amid mounting international concern over the plight of civilians caught in the war between the troops and Tamil Tigers, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has invited UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon “to see for himself the situation” in Sri Lanka’s north.
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa has invited the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to Sri Lanka to see for himself the situation regarding the action for the accommodation and treatment of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who have recently come to government controlled areas in such large numbers, and plans for their resettlement,” a statement from the president’s office said Wednesday.

Rajapaksa extended the invitation during the course of a telephone conversation initiated by the UN chief Tuesday evening.

“The president has also told the UN secretary general that he would then be able to make a better assessment of the conditions faced by the Tamil civilians still held hostage by the LTTE in a small stretch of the Civilian Safety Zone,” the statement said.

Rajapaksa has said the visit would give the UN chief “a better understanding of the cooperation between the government and the UN and its relief organisations and well as with Sri Lankan and foreign NGOs, in the temporary transit locations for the IDPs”.

The statement added that no date for the UNSG’s (UN secretary general) visit has been agreed on.

According to government statistics, nearly 200,000 people have fled the war zone and come to the government-controlled areas since the beginning of this year. They have been temporarily housed at refugee camps and welfare centres in the northern Vavuniya town.

The telephone conversation took place after the UN and the Sri Lankan government jointly made “an urgent appeal” for $50 million to meet the most immediate humanitarian needs of civilians fleeing the fighting in the country’s north.

“It’s a critical time. Around a quarter of under five-year olds in the camps are undernourished, and they need immediate help. Tens of thousands more civilians are expected to come from the remaining zone,” Neil Buhne, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Sri Lanka said in a statement Tuesday.

Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka informed parliament Tuesday that the elusive Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran is trapped in a small coastal land strip of four sq km, facing an inevitable military defeat”.

“The government will under no circumstances enter into a ceasefire even though there is mounting international pressure to have a halt in the offensive and save Prabhakaran,” the PM told parliament, adding that the government is determined to rescue civilians still remaining in the war zone.

The defence ministry said that the troops have cornered the LTTE into a small strip of land and were now “surging in three frontal ground manoeuvres to rescue civilians held hostage by the LTTE at gunpoint”.

The foreign ministers of Britain and France visited Colombo last week and held talks with the government leaders and undertook a fact-finding visit to the IDP camps in Vavuniya.

This was followed by a similar visit by Canadian minister of International Cooperation Beverley J. Oda.

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