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UN rushing aid to civilians in Sri Lanka fighting

UN rushing aid to hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in Sri Lanka fighting

Schoolgirls return from school to the Mavadivrampu camp for displaced people in eastern Sri Lanka

26 January 2009 – The United Nations and other aid agencies are working to urgently provide humanitarian aid to some 250,000 civilians trapped in areas of northern Sri Lanka where fighting continues between Government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The recent surge in fighting has prompted warnings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials about the humanitarian impact of the conflict on the people of Sri Lanka.

Mr. Ban called today on the LTTE and the Government to accord “immediate and absolute priority” to ensuring the protection and well-being of civilians, including humanitarian aid workers.

“The Government and the LTTE must ensure that all people, including the displaced, are treated in accordance with International Humanitarian Law,” his spokesperson said in a statement.

The Secretary-General also called on both parties to respect “no fire zones,” “safe areas,” and civilian infrastructure including schools, medical facilities and humanitarian facilities and assets. In addition, he called for all parties to allow and facilitate the movement of the 250,000 civilians currently caught up in fighting to safe areas.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), nearly 5,000 people have managed to cross the zones held by the LTTE to Government-controlled areas since late November.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has taken the lead in formulating guidance for assistance to accommodate internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing from the Vanni region.

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sri Lanka has urged the Government to ensure timely and transparent registration of new arrivals, following which the IDPs should be allowed to stay with host families or move to existing Welfare Centres, where their freedom of movement would be guaranteed.

Since early October, some 519 trucks have transported over 8,000 tons of food from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), as well as water and sanitation materials, school supplies, clothing and household goods supplied by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UNHCR.

The 11th UN humanitarian convoy of 61 trucks was dispatched from the northern town of Vavuniya on 16 January.

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