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Sri Lanka: UNHCR dismay at Madhu violations

Briefing notes

Sri Lanka: UNHCR dismay at Madhu violations

22 November 1999

UNHCR is deeply dismayed that respect for the humanitarian and civilian character of Madhu in northern Sri Lanka was violated last week, leading to the tragic and senseless death of innocent civilians.

On 21 November heavy fighting between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE broke out in the Madhu church area. Over 40 civilians were killed and 60 were wounded from among the 3,500 persons who had sought shelter there. A significant number of those killed and wounded were children. UNHCR calls upon both the Sri Lankan authorities and the LTTE to scrupulously preserve the sanctuary of Madhu. UNHCR welcomes the decision of the President of Sri Lanka on 22 November to direct the Sri Lankan army to withdraw from the Madhu church premises and reduce the possibility of further clashes.

The 17th Century church at Madhu in northern Sri Lanka has been the site of an Open Relief Centre for the past ten years. The Centre has provided a vitally important area of safety and tranquillity for tens of thousands of internally displaced persons affected by the conflict. During the past decade, the humanitarian and non-military character of the ORC at Madhu has been respected thus providing a 'safe haven' for displaced persons.

UNHCR staff were evacuated from Madhu following the outbreak of the conflict and will return at the earliest opportunity.