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Asia-pacific

EU, US condemn civilian deaths

Video by Céline BRUNEAU

Latest update : 2009-05-13

Top EU diplomats on Monday asked the UN Security Council to "address" the crisis in Sri Lanka, while the US called on the government and the rebels to end the conflict. Thousands of civilians have died in recent fighting.

AFP - Top diplomats from Britain, France and Austria on Monday asked the UN Security Council to address the "appalling" crisis in Sri Lanka, where thousands of civilians have died in recent months.
  
"The humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka is something the Security Council should address," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said during a joint press encounter with his counterparts from France, Bernard Kouchner, and Austria, Michael Spindelegger.
  
The three spoke after attending an informal meeting between eight Security Council members and officials from the world body and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the situation in the no-fire zone of eastern Sri Lanka.
  
"We will ask our colleagues to do something politically strong" Kouchner said.
  
But the Sri Lanka issue is not on the agenda of the 15-member council as some powerful members, notably China and Russia, are opposed.
  
"There's no question that civilian life is being lost on a large scale," said Miliband, who described the crisis spawned by fighting between government forces and Tamil Tigers separatists as "appalling" and "shocking."
  
Miliband cited reports by "credible and serious" NGOs of the use of heavy artillery by government forces affecting civilians in the no-fire zone.
  
He said he and Kouchner would raise this with the Sri Lankan government "as a matter of the utmost urgency."
  
The British chief diplomat also deplored the "enormous strain" on civilians in internally displaced camps there as well as the "continued denial of visas and access" for UN, NGOs and journalists.
  
Earlier Monday, the United Nations called for an immediate end to Sri Lanka's fighting after describing the weekend shelling of civilians as a "bloodbath" in which over 100 children were killed.
  
UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the Colombo government "to explore all possible options to bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed" and asked the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels to agree to a halt in the fighting.
  
"The secretary-general is appalled at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Sri Lanka over the weekend," his office said in a statement.
  
"Thousands of Sri Lankans have already died in the past several months due to the conflict, and more still remain in grave danger."
  
Artillery strikes on the small stretch of coastline still held by the Tamil Tiger guerrillas in the northeast of the island nation have caused major casualties among the tens of thousands of non-combatants, both sides reported.
  
"The large-scale killing of civilians, including the death of over 100 children, over the weekend shows that the bloodbath scenario has become a reality," Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Colombo, told AFP.
  
During a visit to Sri Lanka late last month, Miliband and Kouchner urged the government to stop the fighting with separatist Tamil Tigers and allow humanitarian access to the conflict zone.
  
The Colombo government estimates that up to 20,000 civilians are being held in the less than five-square-kilometer (two-square-mile) area where the rebels are holed up. The United Nations has said as many as 50,000 may be trapped there.

Date created : 2009-05-12

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