Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

UN: Sri Lanka must respect heavy weapons pledge

Sri Lanka must put in practice its latest pledge not to use heavy weapons as it fights the Tamil Tiger rebels, with more than 50 000 people in ”mortal danger” in the war zone, the United Nations aid chief said on Monday.

Amid mounting diplomatic pressure to protect civilians caught in what many expect to be the final battle in Sri Lanka’s 25-year conflict, the government said on Monday it would no longer use heavy weapons as it moves in to rescue those still trapped.

”I hope that the idea of not using heavy weapons will genuinely be respected, which I am afraid has not been the case in the past,” UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters.

”It’s absolutely important that what the government has said is now respected.”

On his second trip to the Indian Ocean island in as many months, Holmes met President Mahinda Rajapaksa after touring refugee camps near Sri Lanka’s northern war zone as part of his two-day emergency visit.

Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) accuse each other of targeting people packed into a coastal strip of less than 10 square kilometres.

”We need to see what that does mean on the ground. I hope it means the intensity of fighting will be very much reduced,” Holmes told reporters.

The UN estimates ”50 000 plus” people are still there, and possibly more, Holmes said. The government estimates no more than 20 000 are left, after an exodus of 113 000 which started a week ago.

”Our figures were more accurate than the government’s,” he said, referring to Colombo’s mid-February estimate of no more than 70 000. ”However many there are, these people are in mortal danger.”

He said thousands of civilians had been killed, but declined to confirm an internal UN tally showing about 6 500 civilian deaths since the end of January, saying there was not enough detailed information to make that an official UN figure.

Talks with the LTTE had borne no fruit, Holmes said.

”In the contact I had, there was no give in terms of letting civilians go or laying down their weapons,” Holmes said.

The LTTE insist people are staying with them by choice, despite numerous witness accounts saying they are shooting people who try to flee and forcibly recruiting others to fight.

Holmes said there still was no agreement on permitting a UN humanitarian team into the war zone as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for last week, nor on the release of UN local staff from refugee camps.

The UN pledged $10-million on top of $10-million already given to help deal with the refugee exodus, he said.

Holmes said facilities were overwhelmed in the first few days but joint efforts of the government and aid agencies have improved conditions.

Existing refugee camps are up to standards, but the government must allow greater freedom of movement, rapid resettlement of people and work to reunify families, Holmes said. — Reuters

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Kenya’s beach boys fall into sex tourism, trafficking

In the face of their families’ poverty, young men, persuaded by the prospect of wealth or education, travel to Europe with their older female sponsors only to be trafficked for sex

High court reinstates Umgeni Water board

The high court has ruled that the dissolution of the water entity’s board by Minister Lindiwe Sisulu was unfair and unprocedural

Mkhize throws the book at the Special Investigating Unit

It’s a long shot at political redemption for the former health minister and, more pressingly, a bid to avert criminal charges
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×