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UN envoy in Sri Lanka over fears for civilians

[TamilNet, Thursday, 19 February 2009 08:11 No Comment]

capt.photo_1235027219202-1-0 The United Nations humanitarian chief John Holmes held talks with leaders in Sri Lanka on Thursday over the fate of thousands of civilians trapped in the island’s war zone.


Holmes met with Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama as the Tamil Tiger rebels stood on the brink of defeat at the hands of government troops after a bloody 37-year campaign for an independent Tamil homeland.


The UN has accused the Tigers of shooting civilians who try to escape from rebel-held territory, and has also pleaded with the military to avoid non-combatant casualties.


A foreign ministry official said Holmes was expected to travel to the northeast of the island to inspect government-run relief centres for those fleeing the conflict.


The visit came as the International Committee of the Red Cross reported an "unfolding catastrophe" with trapped civilians short of food, medicine and shelter.


Holmes, who last visited Sri Lanka in 2007, was also scheduled to discuss the humanitarian situation with aid groups during his three-day visit.


In a further diplomatic development Sri Lanka’s cabinet refused to withdraw its opposition to a British special envoy despite fresh talks between the two sides on the island’s growing humanitarian crisis, a minister said.


Ministers who met on Wednesday evening took up the British request to send special envoy Des Browne to assess the unfolding plight of civilians trapped in the island’s northeastern war zone, a minister who declined to be named said.


"The cabinet rejected the fresh calls to accept the British special envoy on the basis that there had been no prior consultation and that there was no real need for his visit," the minister said.

Sri Lanka’s government has rejected fresh calls for a truce as its forces took another village from rebel control.


It has staunchly denied targeting civilians and accused the Tigers of fabricating reports of non-combatant deaths.

[Full Coverage]

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