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Concerned UN sends envoy to Lanka

By Dharam Shourie in United Nations
May 15, 2009 11:02 IST
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Concerned over the plight of civilians caught up in the ongoing fighting in Sri Lanka, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has dispatched his Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar, a former Indian diplomat, to the island nation to underscore his message for protection of civilians and resolution of the humanitarian situation there.

During his telephonic conversation with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Ban reiterated his concerns about the protection of civilians as fighting continues between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters.

"As you will recall, the Secretary-General urged the government of Sri Lanka to explore all possible options to bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed and to make public the terms under which that can be achieved without further loss of civilian life," she said.

Members of the UN Security Council on Wednesday expressed grave concern over the worsening crisis in northern Sri Lanka, in particular the reports of hundreds of civilian casualties in recent days. They reiterated their support for the personal involvement of the Secretary-General, and urged the government to extend full cooperation to the UN to resolve the humanitarian crisis.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that over 50,000 people remain in the conflict zone, while more than 198,000 people have managed to leave and cross over to government-controlled areas. Of those, nearly 196,000 people are accommodated in temporary, overcrowded camps.

The UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss, said conditions inside the camps are still 'miserable', owing to overcrowding and poor hygiene conditions. In addition, "they are dealing with an extremely fragile population who have been through a terrible time for the past three months," he said.

Aid agencies, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, have constructed 8,000 shelters and erected more than 9,000 tents to accommodate the new arrivals in the districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee.

They are also carrying out regular distribution of non-food items and monitoring at the sites. According to OCHA, the last food shipment to the conflict zone, a shrinking pocket of land on the northern coastline, was on May 8, and civilians trapped in the area are in desperate need of food and supplies.

Earlier today, two ships of the International Committee of the Red Cross carrying 25 tons and 500 tons respectively of mixed food commodities were unable to discharge cargo in the conflict zone due to continuous heavy fighting.

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Dharam Shourie in United Nations
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