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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2739

UN Chief Undecided on Visit to Sri Lanka

United Nations, 18 February, (Asiantribune.com) UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has received an invitation to visit Sri Lanka but he has still not decided whether he will visit the country, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters.

At a press conference Tuesday, she also said the United Nations has expressed heightened concern for the welfare of the civilian population caught up in the fighting, based on reports received in the last few days.

While the designation of the new safe zone has provided some respite for the tens of thousands of civilians trapped for weeks by heavy fighting, reports from the weekend indicate some fighting inside the zone, leading to deaths and injuries to yet more civilians.

The United Nations calls for the Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to refrain from fighting in areas of civilian concentration, she added..

The LTTE continues to actively prevent people leaving, and reports indicate that a growing number of people trying to leave have been shot and sometimes killed. There are also indications that children as young as 14, are being recruited into the ranks of the LTTE.

Meanwhile, 15 United Nations staff and 75 of their dependents remain in the same area, having also been prevented from leaving by the LTTE. 15 of the dependent children have contracted respiratory diseases, and now are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The UN is especially concerned that one staff member was reported forcibly recruited into the LTTE yesterday.

The UN calls on the LTTE to immediately release him, to desist from further recruitment of civilians, and to permit passage for people who wish to leave, especially the women and children.

Tens of thousands of civilians remain in the “Vanni Pocket”, including a large number of children, experiencing serious shortages of food, medicine, and clean water. Efforts to bring in more food and medicines have not yet been successful.

The UN calls on both sides to find an orderly and humane solution so that civilians – and children in particular - can be spared further bloodshed and loss of life due to both disease and the fighting.

Asked about the number of civilian casualties in Sri Lanka, the Spokeswoman said that the United Nations did not have a precise count. In response to a further question on whether the United Nations had an estimate that it was refusing to disclose, Montas said that what the United Nations had was an estimate that it was not in a position to verify on the ground.

She emphasized that the United Nations was focusing on avoiding further civilian casualties, and, in that regard, had called for civilians to be allowed to leave the area of conflict.

Asked about a visit by the Secretary-General to visit Sri Lanka, the Spokeswoman confirmed that the Secretary-General had received an invitation to visit the country, but she added that he had not decided on a visit.

- Asian Tribune -

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