SA concerned at Sri Lanka situation

Monday, April 27, 2009

Pretoria - The South African Government has is apprehensive about the humanitarian crisis and safety of civilians in Sri Lanka.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs said government was concerned for the safety and well-being of all civilians reportedly caught up in the conflict between the military forces of the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"We also appeal to the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to take the necessary action that will lead to a cessation of the hostilities.

"South Africa continues to support all efforts aimed at bringing about peace and reconciliation through an immediate ceasefire in the fighting, especially where innocent civilians are caught in the cross-fire," said the statement.

Tens of thousands of civilians are being confined to a shrinking pocket of land on the country's north-east coast. The area has been fiercely defended by the Tamil rebels against the government military offensive since December.

Government in the statement also reiterated its position that all the people of Sri Lanka must find a peaceful and just solution to their disputes within the sovereign state of Sri Lanka.

It added that respect for territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and peaceful resolution of the conflict through negotiations is necessary.

"We hope that Sri Lanka will return to being a secure, stable state."

Meanwhile, a top United Nations humanitarian official arrived in Sri Lanka on Sunday to press for the release of the trapped civilians.

"The months of fighting during which the inhabitants of the conflict zone have been trapped have taken a terrible toll among the civilian population," said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes.

Mr Holmes, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, called on the LTTE to let the remaining civilian population, estimated to be around 50 000 people, leave the strip of land and to lay down their arms.

He further urged the government "to exercise maximum restraint including no use of heavy weapons" in the conflict zone.

He underscored the need for a new humanitarian pause or a two-day break in hostilities to get aid and aid workers into the combat zone. "We must have access to all IDPs [internally displaced persons] wherever they are, including in the conflict zone."

Mr Holmes is to meet with government officials, the UN humanitarian country team, civil society and the donor community during his visit.

Together with the government, international aid agencies and donors, Mr. Holmes will also review the major humanitarian operation under way to help the approximately 200 000 civilians who have escaped from the combat zone over the last three months.