UN urges safe passage for civilians caught in Sri Lanka fighting

UNITED NATIONS, January 30, 2009 (AFP) – UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday appealed to the Sri Lankan government and its Tamil foes to ensure safe passage for an estimated 250,000 civilians caught in the fighting in the northeast of the island country. “The Secretary General calls upon the (rebel) Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in particular, to allow civilians in the conflict zone to move to where they feel most secure, including (government-controlled) areas,” his press office said in a statement.

Ban also urged the Colombo government “to ensure that those civilians arriving from the Vanni and other conflict areas are treated in accordance with international standards,” including guaranteeing their freedom of movement, providing basic services, and allowing full access by humanitarian agencies.

The UN boss said that he remained concerned about the fate of civilians, including tens of thousands of children, despite Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s announcement of safe passage for them.

He called on both Colombo and the LTTE “to do all in their power to make this safe passage a reality, and to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.”

Earlier Friday, Sri Lanka howev