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UN asks Lankan Govt to protect civilians while fighting LTTE

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the Sri Lankan Govt to do all it can to protect thousands of civilians caught in fighting between government forces and the LTTE and stressed that the civilians must be evacuated from the conflict zone.

world Updated: Apr 10, 2009 07:55 IST

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked the Sri Lankan government to do all it can to protect thousands of civilians caught in fighting between government forces and the LTTE who are being squeezed into the ever shrinking war zone.

Ban, who discussed the situation with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday over telephone, stressed that the civilians must be evacuated from the conflict zone.

"The Secretary-General reminds all concerned of their obligations to do all they can to protect civilians and stresses that civilians should be allowed to leave the affected areas in Vanni region," Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters.

Meanwhile, a top UN official has also called for a temporary halt in the fighting and warned that 'a bloodbath on the beaches of northern Sri Lanka seems an increasingly real possibility.'

The Sri Lankan military has pushed the rebels into an area so small that any shooting or shelling will unavoidably cause casualties among the 150,000 to 190,000 civilians trapped in the same zone, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has said.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), unconfirmed reports suggest that hundreds of civilians have been injured on Wednesday and Thursday alone in the 14-square kilometre area of Vanni, designated as a no-fire zone.

OCHA said on Friday that over 60,000 people have fled the Vanni region in the past five months.

Some 4,000 people have arrived in Vavuniya, where they have joined nearly 60,000 others sheltering in overcrowded camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

More than 1,000 metric tonnes of food from the UN World Food Programme and 35 metric tons of vegetables have been provided by the government. Other supplies, including hygiene kits and bed sheets supplied by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), reached the no-fire zone this week.

According to OCHA, civilians trapped in the no-fire zone lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, and medical supplies are urgently needed.