UN humanitarian chief to press Sri Lanka on civilians

April 25, 2009 (AFP) – The UN’s humanitarian chief was due in Sri Lanka Saturday as international concern over civilians trapped in the island’s war zone fuelled a White House call for an immediate ceasefire. John Holmes’ three-day mission will focus on pushing the government to facilitate humanitarian missions in and around the conflict zone and to allow proper access to tens of thousands of displaced civilians, the UN said.

The plight and suffering of those caught in the fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels prompted US President Barack Obama’s administration on Friday to urge an end to hostilities.

“We call on both sides to stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone,” the White House said in a statement.

The Sri Lankan government has so far resisted all calls to halt an offensive that is now on the brink of wiping out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, who have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1972.

The Tigers, once one of the most feared guerrilla organisations in the world, have seen their territory shrink to a sliver of land on the northeast coast estimated to measure 10 square kilometres (ab