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Give us access to conflict zones: UN tells Sri Lanka

Demanding release of its staffs currently being held in camps in Sri Lanka's conflict zones, the UN today asked the island nation's government to provide it access to the area to help the trapped Tamil civilians.

world Updated: Apr 23, 2009 11:29 IST

Demanding release of its staffs currently being held in camps in Sri Lanka's conflict zones, the UN on Thursday asked the island nation's government to provide it access to the area to help the trapped Tamil civilians.

"The humanitarian situation is absolutely critical... The United Nations must be given access to the conflict zones so that we can access the situation and also to bring help to those who are in need," Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary- General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, said at the UN headquarters in New York.

Talking to reporters after an informal interactive meeting of the Security Council on Sri Lanka, Bragg said the international community must act together in one voice to end fighting and prevent further bloodshed.

"The UN officials in Sri Lanka are ready to go into the area (conflict zones) as soon as the Government would grant permission to do so," she said.

Bragg said the world body has appealed to the Sri Lankan government to release UN staffs who are currently being held in camps in the conflict zone.

Bragg said there are 13 UN staffs, who are currently in the camps. "We are in constant touch with them," she said.

"They have so far not been able to make arrangement in order to go into the conflict zone. We are appealing to the Government of Sri Lanka for the UN to be present to all screening procedures for people leaving the conflict zone. It is important to increase the level of trust among the civilian population," Bragg said.

"So far, we have not received any permission for the UN staff being at the screening points," she said.

In response to a question, Bragg said: "We don't have any official numbers at all of the casualties. Unlike in other conflict situations where the government would have provided us with casualty numbers and that we would verify with other sources, we have not been provided with those numbers by the government so we cannot verify them. We only have estimates."

Earlier, the UN voiced deep concern over the safety of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in a shrinking pocket of land in Sri Lanka's north where fighting rages between the military and the LTTE.

The situation in the area is chaotic and reliable information is difficult to obtain, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

"While there are no verifiable numbers of overall casualties, we believe that significant numbers have been killed and injured in the military operation," UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters.