United Nations Security Council voices 'grave' concern over Sri Lanka humanitarian crisis

The Security Council yesterday voiced its grave concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka and called for urgent action by all parties to ensure the safety of civilians.

Clashes between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) over the weekend led to the death of hundreds of civilians trapped in the conflict zone, a shrinking pocket of land on the northern coastline.

Heavy fighting is reportedly continuing in the area, with heavy casualties, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Members of the Council strongly condemn the LTTE for its acts of terrorism over many years, and for its continued use of civilians as human shields and acknowledge the legitimate right of the Government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism,” Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, which holds the 15-member body’s rotating presidency for May, said in a statement read out to the press following closed-door talks. (See below for full text of statement.)

The Council also demanded that the LTTE lay down its arms and allow those still in the conflict zone to leave. The UN estimates that over 50,000 people remain in the conflict zone, while more than 196,000 people have managed to leave and crossed to Government-controlled areas.

At the same time, Council members “express deep concern at the reports of continued use of heavy caliber weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians, and expect the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitment in this regard.” It also called on the Government to take further steps to facilitate the evacuation of the trapped civilians and the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance.

OCHA said today that it has been informed by the Government of Sri Lanka that it will soon issue identification cards to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) once the registration process is completed, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York.

The cards will allow for IDPs to travel outside camp locations for employment, purchasing provisions and other essential activities. Currently more than 20,000 IDPs have already registered for IDs and the process is ongoing.

Since the recent large influx of IDPs, many of the camp management duties have been taken over by the military. “The UN continues to emphasize the need for the camps to be managed by civilians, and reiterates the need for more civilian police, including women police and police from the Tamil community,” said Ms. Montas.

Also yesterday, an International Committee of the Red Cross-flagged ship carrying 25 metric tons of food turned back due to fighting in the conflict zone, for the second time in as many days.

An additional 500-ton shipment of mixed food commodities was ready for departure from Trincomalee later Wednesday, and another shipment of 25 tons of food is planned for today.

The following Security Council press statement on Sri Lanka was read out today by Council President Vitaly Churkin ( Russian Federation):

The members of the Security Council express grave concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in northeast Sri Lanka, in particular the reports of hundreds of civilian casualties in recent days, and call for urgent action by all parties to ensure the safety of civilians.

The members of the Security Council strongly condemn the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for its acts of terrorism over many years, and for its continued use of civilians as human shields, and acknowledge the legitimate right of the Government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism.

The members of the Security Council demand that the LTTE lay down its arms and allow the tens of thousands of civilians still in the conflict zone to leave.

The members of the Security Council express deep concern at the reports of continued use of heavy caliber weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians, and expect the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitment in this regard.

The members of the Security Council demand that all parties respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

The members of the Security Council call on the Government of Sri Lanka to take the further necessary steps to facilitate the evacuation of the trapped civilians and the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to them.

The members of the Security Council take note of the steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the humanitarian situation of displaced persons and call on the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the security of those displaced by the conflict and to cooperate with the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other international humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian relief and access to them as soon as they leave the conflict zone.

The members of the Security Council reiterate support for the personal involvement of the UN Secretary General and urge the Government of Sri Lanka to extend full cooperation to the United Nations in order to resolve the humanitarian crisis.

The members of the Security Council, mindful of the necessity to find a long–term solution without the threat of violence, underline that the needs of all communities in Sri Lanka have to be addressed.

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