AFP - The UN Security Council on Wednesday urged the warring sides in Sri Lanka to ensure the safety of civilians, voicing "grave concern' at the "worsening humanitarian crisis" there.
It unanimously adopted a non-binding statement that expressed "grave concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in northeast Sri Lanka, in particular the reports of hundreds of civilian casualties in recent days."
The statement also called "for urgent action by all parties to ensure the safety of civilians."
"For the first time, a text is formally adopted to express our concern over the situation, which explains the absolute condemnation of the LTTE (rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)," France's UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, one of the three sponsors of text, said.
But he stressed that the text also "asks the Sri Lankan government to honor its commitment not to use heavy weapons in heavily populated areas."
Council members stressed that it was extremely important that UN chief Ban Ki-moon be fully engaged in the matter, Ripert said, adding that the secretary general would likely announce a visit to the strife-torn Indian Ocean island.
The 15-member-council strongly condemned the LTTE for "its acts of terrorism over many years and for its continued use of civilians as human shields and acknowledge the legitimate right of the government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism."
They demanded that the LTTE lay down its arms and allow the tens of thousands of civilians still in the conflict zone to leave and voiced "deep concern" at reports of "continued use of heavy caliber weapons by government forces in areas with high concentrations of civilians."
The text was put forward by envoys of France, Britain and Austria, whose foreign ministers came here Monday to press the Security Council to address the "appalling" crisis in Sri Lanka.
It was adopted hours after Amnesty International called for urgent council action and a probe into "the mounting evidence of serious violations of international law" amid reports that an estimated 50,000 civilians may be trapped in the fierce fighting.
Human Rights Watch also pointed the finger at both parties in the long-running conflict.
Dozens of civilians trapped in Tiger territory in northeast Sri Lanka were reported killed in shelling Wednesday, as both sides in the war faced renewed allegations of war crimes.
The rebels blamed advancing government forces for the bombardment, which came a day after 47 civilians died in a similar raid, according to one doctor, and in the wake of weekend attacks that the UN described as a "bloodbath."