Thursday, September 4, 2008

UN urges LTTE to release stranded civilians

The United Nation's Resident representative in Sri Lanka requested that all civilians who want to move out of the non-liberated areas in the North should be allowed to move out without any hindrance.

"Any displaced person is entitled to freedom of movement according to international principles; they can move where and when they want, in search of safety and assistance," Neil Buhne, the UN Resident representative said in a public statement.

The statement followed after a Ministry of Defense statement that said Monday that it had taken swift measures to establish a humanitarian corridor so that civilians trapped in the area controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) can escape to safe ground.

Earlier there had been allegations by the Amnesty International and other Tamil leaders that the LTTE had driven civilians to the war prone areas in the North so that they could be used as a human shield.

The United Nations office said, The UN has been providing supplies to the displaced in the Wanni, accessible only through the Omanthai Entry/Exit point, 50km south of Kilinochchi. Buhne said supplies were reaching the displaced despite the access difficulties, but he warned that the situation was very precarious.

"We continue to have access to the bulk of the IDPs, but the situation is very fluid," Buhne said. "It is difficult for us to supply them when they are on the move."

Government officials in Kilinochchi also warned that distribution of supplies into the Wanni could be easily blocked. "There is only one road [with access to government-controlled areas], the A9 and one access point," the government agent in Kilinochchi, Nagalingam Vedanayagam, told a relief related website. "If that route closes [due to fighting], the Wanni is cut off."

The Sri Lankan government last week appealed to civilians and IDPs remaining in the Wanni to move south and reach government-controlled areas through the Omanthai gate.

"We want the civilians to come to Vavuniya [south of Vanni]; we have established all facilities in Vavuniya," Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa told reporters at the Foreign Ministry in Colombo on 28 August.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights said the government was increasing facilities available in Vavuniya to assist the IDPs.

"The Government of Sri Lanka has decided to further develop Vavuniya as a storage and logistic hub for humanitarian assistance including food and non-food items," the Ministry said in a statement on 1 September. "The ongoing efforts of the Government in this connection are complemented by international partners who have also commenced stockpiling food and humanitarian supplies."

Nonetheless, no significant movement of people southwards from Kilinochchi has occurred, according to military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara. "So far we have not seen a big increase," he said, "maybe it will happen in the coming days."

The UN office however said they would attempt to deliver relief supplies wherever the IDP's are.

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