UN official says LTTE actively prevented civilians leaving during the 2-day truce
Thursday, April 16, 2009, 5:45 GMT, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.
Apr 16, Colombo: While welcoming the 48-hour halt in military operations in Northeastern Sri Lanka for the trapped civilians to leave the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Sir John Holmes, said the two-day suspension was not enough and fewer civilians got out during the pause than before.
Addressing the press at the UN Headquarters in New York yesterday, Sir Holmes said it was clear that LTTE actively prevented those who wanted to leave from getting out and said civilians should not be used as "pawns or human shields."
The UN official strongly called on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to allow the vast majority of civilians who wanted to leave "out of harms way". LTTE was the biggest obstacle to people trying to leave the no-fire zone, he said.
Holmes again called on the Sri Lankan Government not to use heavy weapons and do everything it could to save civilian lives. He emphasized the need for the government to address concerns raised regarding the camps for the fleeing civilians in terms of camp management, freedom of movement and better and more transparent screening of people getting out of the area so that reports of abuse could be dealt with.
Responding to a question from a reporter the Under-Secretary-General said that he was aware of the fact that there were some United Nations local staff members in the camps who could not leave.
"The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had requested that those persons be allowed to leave immediately and resume their work. The Government had constantly given assurances that they would be allowed to do so, but so far, nothing had happened," he said.
Sir Holmes admitted that the UN officials had contacts with representatives of LTTE outside of the conflict area who were in communication with the LTTE leaders on the ground, to pressure them into allowing civilians to leave.
According to LTTE, the people did not trust the Government's promises regarding their treatment once they came out and the civilians are voluntarily staying in the conflict zone.
However, the physical treatment during the screening process and in the camps was 'reasonable', the Under-Secretary-General said.
In response to a question about the UN calling for a ceasefire, the Sir Holmes said the UN was calling for a peaceful, orderly, and lasting end to hostilities and the option of a ceasefire was not available under the circumstances.
He said the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway were applying bilateral pressure, not only on the Government but also on LTTE, to let people out. He regretted the Sri Lankan government's decision not to cooperate with Norway in its mediation role.
"It did not, however, stop the Government of Norway, or anybody else, from initiating contacts with LTTE if they chose to do so," he added.