United Nations, New York, 28 April 2009 – Daily Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General. The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today said that Sri Lanka faces huge challenges in meeting an unfolding humanitarian crisis.
Speaking after touring camps for people who fled fighting in the country’s north, the Emergency Relief Coordinator said that Sri Lanka is trying to cope with a “twin humanitarian crisis”. As tens of thousands of people are still trapped on a small patch of territory in the north, with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is refusing to let them leave, while the fighting continues. The second crisis, Holmes said, is the swollen camps that are filling up with 200,000 people who fled the fighting, many in very poor condition, with more likely on the way soon.
In his meeting earlier today with Sri Lankan President Rajapakse, Holmes reiterated concerns over the level of civilian casualties, and the urgent need to assist the tens of thousands of civilians still trapped in the conflict zone, particularly with food aid and medical supplies.
Holmes is on a three-day special mission to Sri Lanka but was not yet able to get Government authorization for the United Nations to have access to the conflict zone where civilians were being held.
“Given the fact that the LTTE has refused to let these people go, I hope that we will be given more humanitarian access to the zone,” said Holmes. “We believe that there are critical levels of hunger, and large numbers of people needing medical treatment.” Holmes added that he welcomed the government’s announcement about the scaling down of combat operations and no further use of heavy weapons, because that should reduce civilian casualties. However he said that the key was implementation in full of what had been announced, in the light of past experience.