U.N. Calls on Sri Lanka To Allow Aid Groups Access To Civilians in Civil War Aftermath
The U.N. called on Sri Lanka's government on Wednesday to allow aid workers access to the country's north and allow them to evacuate civilians who were in the area after the country declared victory against the Tamil Tigers rebel group, the Washington Post reports. The country marked the end of its 26-year civil war with a newly declared national holiday on Wednesday.
The condition of 280,000 displaced Tamils is of "grave and growing" concern, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, adding, "A good start would be to provide the U.N. and its partners with full, unconditional access to all civilians" (Wax, Washington Post, 5/21).
Elisabeth Byrs, a spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said, "We need to have access, I repeat, total access, without the least let or hindrance, for the U.N., for NGOs and for the Red Cross" (Reuters/Mail & Guardian, 5/20). The Red Cross has appealed for access to the war zone to help people there, but the government said it did not need help, according to Paul Castella, the head of the Sri Lanka office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (Arab Times, 5/20).
Sri Lanka is now home to the world's largest refugee camp with "more than 150,000" people and it is "continuing to grow," James Elder, UNICEF's spokesperson, said (Memmott, Two Way/NPR, 5/21). Since fighting intensified in January, an estimated 7,000 civilians have been killed and about 16,000 have been injured, the Washington Post reports. About 80,000 people are believed to have fled the war zone mostly for government-run camps over the past few days (Washington Post, 5/21). However the U.N. said it had no official information on the numbers of sick or wounded people still in the conflict zone (Reuters/Mail & Guardian, 5/20).
Ron Redmond, a U.N. agency spokesperson, said that several issues require "urgent attention," including "overcrowding and the limited services available at the camps." According to Redmond, "Civilians coming out of the conflict zone are sick, hungry and suffering from acute malnourishment and dehydration."
Lakshman Hulugalle, director general of the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry's media center, said that although the camps are "not five-star hotels," officials were "trying to accommodate the displaced people," but they would not allow "journalists and others go there to treat these people as if they were animals in a zoo" (Washington Post, 5/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.