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Ogata voices concern over fighting in Sri Lanka

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Ogata voices concern over fighting in Sri Lanka

18 May 2000

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today expressed alarm about the plight of civilians caught in the fighting in Sri Lanka's Jaffna peninsula.

"The current military situation has put civilians at great risk and has already caused casualties among the people of Jaffna," High Commissioner Sadako Ogata said in a statement.

"I am appealing to all parties to ensure that civilians are protected from the escalating hostilities. They must be allowed to move to areas considered safe," she said.

The Indian Navy has rescued scores of Sri Lankans who have fled the fighting, but Mrs. Ogata said she is disturbed by a reported statement that refugees will not be allowed entry into India. UNHCR has repeatedly called on countries to open their borders to people seeking asylum.

Since fighting intensified in Jaffna last month, around 400 Sri Lankans have arrived in India, which already hosts some 100,000 refugees from Sri Lanka.

Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in the peninsula, with a population of about 500,000. Many of them have found shelter with relatives and friends mainly in the northern and western sections of the area.

Despite a 24-hour curfew, UNHCR staff have been able to visit some of the schools, clinics, government buildings, temples and churches sheltering some of the displaced. UNHCR is working with civil authorities and other agencies in providing aid to them.

UNHCR has been providing aid to hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by the fighting in Sri Lanka since 1987.