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UNICEF urges Tigers to ensure free movement out of conflict areas

UNICEF says that at least 75,000 children are trapped in the conflict zone with education hampered for some 30,000 students and 154 schools closed or relocated
Contributor/IRIN

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) has called on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to guarantee the free movement of hundreds of thousands of civilians - including as many as 75,000 children - out of conflict areas in the north.



"We now have a high number of people concentrated in a small area and we are very concerned for their safety. They are close to the fighting and have poor access to healthcare and shelter as well as proper water and sanitation," Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF Country Representative in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.



"While every effort must be made by the Government and the LTTE to avoid any civilian casualties, the best thing for these people is that the LTTE allows them to move freely and enter a safe area where they can receive appropriate support."



Duamelle said the UN agency was deeply concerned about the children trapped in conflict areas and those serving as underage combatants within LTTE ranks.



"These children must receive adequate protection and assistance,and UNICEF remains ready to respond to their needs," Duamelle told IRIN. "But to do so, they must be freed from the conflict zone. These children live in a state of constant fear and in a highly traumatic environment."



In a statement released on 22 January, the UN Resident Coordinator's Office also criticised the LTTE for preventing local staff members and their dependents from moving out of the conflict zones in the north.



"The United Nations in Sri Lanka has issued its strongest possible protest to the LTTE for their refusal to allow UN national staff and dependents to return from the [conflict affected] Vanni with the present UN convoy," the office said. 



"The LTTE's denial of safe passage is a clear abrogation of their obligations under international humanitarian law."



Thousands trapped



There are at least 230,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in an increasingly diminishing area in northern Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu Districts in Sri Lanka, according to UN figures. Government forces and Tamil Tigers are engaged in fierce fighting in the area.



The education of at least 30,000 students has been hampered by the fighting and at least 154 schools closed or relocated.



As fighting escalated in the new year, concerns over the safety of civilians have been mounting. John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, stated in his report to the UN Security Council in New York on 14 January that civilians should be allowed freedom of movement.













Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the fighting in Sri Lanka's north and now find themselves precariously close to the front lines

Contributor/IRIN
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the fighting in Sri Lanka's north and now find themselves precariously close to the front lines...
Friday, January 23, 2009
UNICEF urges Tigers to ensure free movement out of conflict areas
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the fighting in Sri Lanka's north and now find themselves precariously close to the front lines...


Photo: Contributor/IRIN
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled the fighting in Sri Lanka's north and now find themselves precariously close to the front lines

Fears for children



Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, has also expressed concerns about the thousands of children caught in the fighting.



"The Special Representative urges the LTTE to allow all children and their families to move to safe areas away from the fighting," Coomaraswamy's office said in a statement released on 21 January.



"Any camp set up for IDPs has to meet international standards. The Government of Sri Lanka should work with international and local humanitarian actors to ensure their safety and security," she said.



Safe zones



Increasing numbers of civilians have braved the fighting since the new year and escaped to safer areas. The government said at least 2,000 IDPs from the conflict areas had reached safe zones behind the frontlines in the past fortnight.



On 21 January the government also declared a safe zone to which civilians could move, north of the A 35 highway where heavy fighting has been reported.



The Army requested the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to inform the LTTE not to direct fire towards the safe zone.



The ICRC is the only international agency in the conflict areas after UN and other international agencies pulled out in September 2008 at the request of the government because of the deteriorating security situation.



ap/bj/mw

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