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Sri Lanka: UNHCR concerned about the safety of civilians

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: UNHCR concerned about the safety of civilians

4 August 2006

In Sri Lanka, we are deeply concerned about the safety of civilians caught in the middle of the fighting between the government forces and fighters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), particularly in the Trincomalee District in the north-east of the country. The fighting has caused displacement, injury and loss of life and property amongst all ethnic communities. There are reports that thousands of civilians are trying to flee the town of Muttur. UNHCR is particularly concerned by reports of deliberate displacement of particular communities.

On Thursday, the UN Secretary-General said he was very concerned about the escalating violence in Sri Lanka and called on the rival parties to cease hostilities immediately and allow humanitarian agencies free access to the populations. We underline how important it is for us to have access to displaced people and for them to have freedom of movement.

The parties have the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons. This includes protection from displacement, protection during displacement and protection during return, resettlement and/or reintegration.

In his visit late last month to Sri Lanka, High Commissioner António Guterres urged both sides to support confidence-building measures to prevent the displacement of people in the first place and allow them to return home if they chose.

Since a 2002 ceasefire began to fray in April this year, some 50,000 more people have fled their homes and are living in neighbouring communities in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Puttalam and in the north of the country. UNHCR is monitoring the displacement and providing protection and humanitarian assistance to the newly displaced. The number who have fled the country to southern India's Tamil Nadu region since January has now reached 5,658.

UNHCR is mandated to provide protection and assistance to IDPs in Sri Lanka and has been working with conflict displaced people in the country since 1987. More than 312,000 people have been displaced within the country since war erupted in 1983 between the government and the LTTE. The UN refugee agency assists about 67,000 displaced people in welfare centres throughout the country.