Expressing concern over the plight of thousands of civilians caught up in the fighting in Sri Lanka's north, the UN office here said Monday the Tamil Tiger rebels were "actively" preventing people from leaving the war-zone.
"The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) continues to actively prevent people leaving, and reports indicate that a growing number of people trying to leave have been shot and sometimes killed," the office of the UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Colombo said.
The UN said tens of thousands of civilians, including a large number of children remain in the Wanni pocket, and were experiencing "serious shortages of food, medicine, and clean water, and as a result increasing numbers are becoming ill".
It said the efforts to bring in more food and medicines "have not yet been successful" and stressed that it is imperative that these needs be met.
"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 which has killed and injured many people, reports from yesterday (Sunday) indicate that there was some fighting inside the zone," the UN statement said.
"This fighting led to the deaths and injury to yet more civilians. The United Nations calls for the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE to refrain from fighting in areas of civilian concentration," it said.
The statement said there were indications that children as young as 14 were being recruited into the ranks of the LTTE.
It said 15 of UN staff members and their families were also prevented by the LTTE from leaving the war-zone.
"Fifteen UN staff and 75 of their dependents, 40 of whom are children, and 35 of whom are women, remain in the same area, have also been prevented from leaving by the LTTE. Fifteen of these children have contracted respiratory diseases, a serious indicator for a population which is now in dire need of humanitarian assistance," it said.
Despite their own vulnerable position, the UN said, many of these staff members played an important role in helping with the distribution of 8,400 of tonnes of food to the civilians of the Wanni over the past four months.
"We are 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," the statement said.