UN chief alarmed by worsening strife in Sri Lanka

UNITED NATIONS, September 9, 2008 (AFP) – UN leader Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm Tuesday over escalating strife between government troops and rebels in northern Sri Lanka and reminded the parties of their obligations to ensure the safety of civilians.

“The secretary general expresses his deep concern over the increased hostilities in northern Sri Lanka, and the grave humanitarian consequences for civilians,” his press office said in a statement.

Earlier Tuesday, the United Nations announced it was withdrawing its aid workers from Sri Lanka’s embattled north ahead of a major military onslaught, as rebels denied one of their aircraft was shot down.

Only a few aid agencies, including the UN outfits, have still been operating inside the Tamil Tiger-held Wanni district, where government forces are currently pushing to dismantle the guerrillas’ enclave.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that it had no immediate plans to pull out.

In light of the Sri Lankan’s government’s request for the relocation of UN humanitarian staff in affected areas, Ban reminded all concerned “of their responsibility to take active steps to ensure the safety and freedom of movement of civilians, allowing humanitarian organizations to do thei