The UN has described the two-day cease-fire on 13 and 14 April declared by the Sri Lankan government as “inadequate” in easing the plight of tens of thousand of Tamil civilians still trapped in a narrow 12km-long so-called No Fire Zone in northern Sri Lanka.
“It’s clear that 48 hours was not long enough to allow us to get in significant amounts of aid, or indeed to allow visits by humanitarian workers to the area,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters on 15 April in New York, warning of a possible “blood bath”.
“Unfortunately, it is also clear that not only did this not allow more civilians to get out, there seemed to be less civilians getting out during the pause than before,” he said.
Only 752 civilians were able to flee the combat zone during the government-declared truce, military officials told IRIN - 513 on 13 April and 239 on 14 April. Another 135 passed into government-controlled areas on 15 April, they said.
“Civilians should not be used as pawns or human shields in this way,” Holmes told reporters, calling on the LTTE to allow safe passage out of the combat zone to those wishing to leave.
The UN estimates that at least 150,000 civilians are still inside the combat zone, while the government says the figure is around 60,000.
As of 16 April, over 65,000 have managed to escape the fighting overland since December 2008, according to government figures.
On 14 April the LTTE, which has been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1983, called for a permanent truce with international mediation.
As fighting resumed in the area, however, Holmes called on the government “to live up to the promises they made on repeated occasions not to use heavy weapons in this area,” which, he said, was contributing to civilian casualties.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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