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Sri Lanka

As fighting ends, Sri Lanka faces a critical moment

UNICEF Image: fighting, Sri Lanka, conflict, water
© UNICEF/2009
Children and adults queue for safe water near rows of tents provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka.

NEW YORK, USA, 20 May 2009 – A quarter-century of war between government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has come to an end, but the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka continues.

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Over a quarter of a million Sri Lankans are now in camps for people displaced by the fighting, and over this past weekend, the government restricted access to some camps by UN workers and their partners.

Humanitarian access

"It's become extremely difficult for the United Nations to continue its operations," said UNICEF Sri Lanka spokesperson James Elder.

In a statement, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said "unimpeded humanitarian access must be ensured so that children and women can receive the assistance they so desperately need.

"People are arriving into camps sick, malnourished and some with untended wounds of war,” she said. “By the end of this week, this massive influx of people, who have suffered as a result of conflict and deprivation, will put an even greater strain on the health, sanitation and water systems."

UNICEF Image: fighting, Sri Lanka, conflict, camp
© UNICEF/2009
A malnourished girl and her mother wait to receive assistance at a UNICEF-supported nutritional centre in a camp for the displaced, on the outskirts of the northern Sri Lankan town of Vavuniya.

‘Working around the clock’

As the fighting unfolded over recent months, thousands of Sri Lankans who escaped the zone of combat sought refuge in camps supported by humanitarian agencies.

"Until the restrictions the government placed on access over the weekend,” said Mr. Elder, “UNICEF and partners were working around the clock supplying millions of litres of water, constructing latrines, supporting mother and child health, establishing nutritional centres, building learning spaces for children, and working on reunifying separated children.

"But it is hard to overstate just how great the need for these long-suffering people is in camps, which is why it's so important that unimpeded access is again granted," he added.

Towards a lasting peace

The end of the war does not mean the end of the crisis, according to Mr. Elder.

"It is critical that Sri Lanka seizes this historical moment and seeks reconciliation that will bring a long-lasting and sustainable peace," he said. "A key aspect of this is the urgent need for the government to separate combatants from non-combatants, so that those who are determined to be non-combatants can be allowed freedom of movement as soon as possible – and are able to resettle to their villages of origin and restart their lives."




20 May 2009:
UNICEF’s James Elder describes the humanitarian crisis that remains in northen Sri Lanka even as fighting has essentially ended.
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