UN pulls out of Sri Lanka war zone

September 9, 2008 (AFP) – The United Nations said Tuesday it was withdrawing all its aid agency personnel from Sri Lanka’s embattled north, following a government order to quit ahead of a major military offensive.

Only a few aid agencies, including the UN outfits, still operate inside the rebel-held Wanni district in northern Sri Lanka. Government forces are currently engaged in a major push to dismantle the guerrilla’s mini state there.

“A precise timetable for the complete withdrawal of all staff is yet to be determined, but relocations will begin this week,” the UN said in a statement.

Sri Lanka’s disaster management minister Mahinda Samarasinghe on Monday said Colombo could not guarantee the safety of aid workers “given the present situation.”

“We asked them to leave the Wanni district immediately with all their resources,” the minister said. “They wanted a week or two to comply.”

The UN statement said it had noted that “the government recognises it holds primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of humanitarian workers.”

It said it would re-assess how it could address the humanitarian needs of civilians.

Colombo wants to avoid troops being accused of killing aid worker