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Sri Lanka urged at U.N. to ensure aid reaches Tamils

[Reuters, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 11:12 No Comment]

Sri Lanka must ensure Tamil refugees receive humanitarian help to recover from the civil war, governments told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Bangladesh, South Korea and Uruguay joined a chorus of calls for Colombo to allow aid agencies into camps holding tens of thousands of people who fled the northwest war zone in which the separatist Tamil Tigers were cornered and eventually defeated.

"The people of Sri Lanka, especially the displaced, should be given all the assistance required to restart their lives," Zambia’s delegate told the 47 member-state United Nations forum on the second day of its Sri Lanka examination.

Norway, which helped mediate talks between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lanka government before the last phase of the war, called for "full and unhindered humanitarian access" to survivors of the conflict and said that journalists must also be allowed to work freely in the area.

"The affected people must be able to return to their homes and to normal, peaceful lives as soon as possible," Oslo’s representative said, also calling for an inquiry into reports of abuses committed by both sides during the fighting.

Austria stressed that Sri Lanka has a responsibility to care for all minorities in the country, including Tamils and Muslims, and Australia told the Council that all communities must be given a political voice for Sri Lanka’s reconciliation to hold.

"The immediate priority of the international community must be to ensure the safety and welfare of all displaced persons," Ireland said, calling for camps to be transferred from army to civilian control and for people to be allowed to move freely.

"The fact that the armed conflict is over will not in and of itself achieve stability in Sri Lanka," the Irish delegate said, encouraging the government to pursue "a negotiated settlement with the Tamil community" as soon as possible.

HUMANITARIAN ACCESS

Sri Lanka and its allies including China, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iran and Myanmar presented a resolution to the U.N. forum emphasising the right of states to manage their internal matters without interference, and calling for financial assistance to help the Indian Ocean country’s reconstruction.

That resolution also won the support of India, Singapore, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand and others, many of whom said it was important to focus on the next steps for the country and not dwell on what occurred during its conflict.

A competing text prepared by Switzerland and backed by 30 states including France, Britain, Canada, Mexico and Mauritius called for "full, safe and unhindered access of humanitarian assistance to all persons in need throughout the country" and says Colombo must avoid any discrimination in aid disbursement.

While telling Sri Lanka to investigate all allegations of abuses and to bring perpetrators to justice, that draft text did not call for an outside inquiry to be launched into whether abuses took place during the closing chapter of the conflict.

Countries will vote on one or both texts by the end of Wednesday.

The International Commission of Jurists, in a statement released on Wednesday, said an examination of the attacks on civilians by fighters on both sides of the war was critical to helping Sri Lanka establish a tenable peace.

"Overcoming the consequences of the lengthy conflict will require urgent national measures, combined with international assistance, to address impunity and discrimination," it said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in her remarks to the special session on Tuesday that "establishing the facts is crucial to set the record straight regarding the conduct of all parties in the conflict."

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s minister of disaster management and human rights, told the opening-day meeting that his government was "sick and tired" of foreign pressure but said that people would be allowed to return to their homes once demining and reconstruction are carried out.

[Full Coverage]

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