UN concerned over civilian casualties in Sri Lanka

February 19th, 2009 - 5:08 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Feb 19 (IANS) A top visiting UN envoy Thursday expressed concern over civilian casualties in Sri Lanka’s north where thousands of Tamil civilians are caught in fierce clashes between the troops and the Tamil Tigers.
“The UN is concerned over the civilian casualties in the war-zone. We urge the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to respect the international humanitarian laws,” John Holmes, UN under secretary general on Humanitarian Affairs said here Thursday.

Holmes, who arrived in Colombo Wednesday night, met Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama here and discussed matters concerning the plight and the humanitarian situation of thousands of civilians trapped in the northern war-zone.

Speaking to reporters just after the meeting with Bogollagama, he said that the LTTE should allow freedom of movement of civilians living in areas under its control.

Holmes said that he would be travelling to the northern town of Vavuniya, where little over 35,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) are housed in government welfare centres.

“I will be heading to Vavuniya Friday to inspect firsthand the situation of the IDPs there. The UN will continue work with the government of Sri Lanka to help and look after the welfare of the IDPs and the civilians trapped in the conflict zones,” he told reporters.

Bogollagama said that the government was taking every possible step to ensure the safety and security of the civilians “held hostage by the LTTE in the north”, while it was determined to completely eliminate terrorism in the island nation.

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), which has already evacuated by sea over 1,000 sick and wounded civilians from the rebel-held areas in the north-eastern Mullaitivu district, said that “scores of civilians were killed and wounded” due to fierce clashes.

Both the government and the LTTE have denied charges of killing civilians, but repeatedly accused each other of targeting innocent civilians.

The defence ministry said Thursday that the LTTE has now been cornered into a mere 100 square km area in the Mullaitivu jungles, as the advancing troops have made “decisive inroads into the LTTE’s remaining garrison township at Puthukkudiyiruppu following days of fierce fighting”.

“The 53 Division troops have breached the LTTE forward defences and are now positioned some 800 m south of Puthukkudiyiruppu town. Troops are also making all efforts to secure safe passage for the people fleeing from the LTTE enclaves towards the liberated areas,” the defence ministry said.

“According to intercepted LTTE transmissions, a senior terrorist operating in-charge of the LTTE’s forward defences at Puthukkudiyiruppu was also killed during a confrontation with military recently,” it said.

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