UN envoy to visit Sri Lanka as civilians trapped in fighting

April 25th, 2009 - 7:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, April 25 (DPA) UN humanitarian chief John Holmes was scheduled to arrive in Sri Lanka Saturday as civilians remained in the last rebel-held areas in the northeast, while thousands of others have fled to government-controlled areas, officials said.
Holmes will meet government and UN officials in Colombo where he is expected to discuss providing assistance to refugees, but has not sought permission to visit the conflict zone where fighting is in progress, UN spokesman in Colombo Gordon Wise said.

Initially the Sri Lankan government said it would allow any UN team to visit the conflict area, but later said it may not be practical.

The government quoted a prominent Tamil rebel member who surrendered earlier this week saying that an estimated 20,000 civilians were still in the conflict zone, a narrow coastal strip in the Mullaitivu district, 395 km northeast of the capital.

But the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said in a statement that some 165,000 civilians were still in the area and facing food shortages.

The statement called for urgent UN assistance and said civilians in coastal areas are faced with serious crisis due to the “deliberate denial of food and other humanitarian supplies by the Sri Lankan government”.

“The dwindling stocks coupled with the deliberate withholding of fresh supplies has made starvation imminent over 165,000 civilians belonging to 40,000 families now living in this area. Food supplies have been withheld since April 2,” the LTTE said.

A food ship operating under the ICRC flag due to land in the coastal area could not reach the area during the fighting this week.

Earlier this week some 109,330 people fled the zone, and the government said the rebels are now confined to eight square kilometres.

The military says it is in the last phase of military operations to crush the LTTE, which is fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the north and eastern parts of the country.

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