May 27, 2009 / 1:47 PM / in 10 years

Sri Lanka urged at U.N. to ensure aid reaches Tamils

* Human Rights Council holds special session on Sri Lanka

* Colombo told at U.N. to help all survivors of its conflict

* Urged to let aid workers reach those who fled war zone

(Adds U.S. comments, details on speakers, ICRC estimates)

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA, May 27 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka must allow international humanitarian access to an estimated 300,000 Tamil refugees from its recently ended civil war, some 60 countries states told the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

They also urged Colombo to work towards reconciliation between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamils and other minorities to ensure long-term peace.

Norway, which mediated talks between the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government before the final military push, called for "full and unhindered humanitarian access" to all war survivors.

"The affected people must be able to return to their homes and to normal, peaceful lives as soon as possible," Oslo’s representative Beate Stiro told the Geneva talks, which were convened at the request of European nations.

Sri Lanka and its allies, including Russia, China and Egypt said the extraordinary meeting was an effort to meddle in the country’s internal affairs, and said the focus should now be on the country’s recovery from nearly three decades of conflict.

Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s minister of disaster management and human rights, told the special session on Tuesday that his government was "sick and tired" of foreign pressure but was aiming to allow war-displaced people to return home once demining and reconstruction activities take place.



"COMBAT DISCRIMINATION"

The United States said the council session coincided with "an important moment in the life of the Sri Lankan nation" and urged Colombo to ensure that all people uprooted by the conflict can return to their homes by the end of the year.

"To secure the peace, we encourage the government of Sri Lanka to make all possible efforts to combat discrimination against persons belonging to ethnic minorities and to ensure equal access for all to education, health, housing, water and food," U.S. delegate Mark Storella said.

Neither of two resolutions presented to the council called for an independent inquiry into abuses committed during the war, in which the government said the LTTE used civilians as human shields and the Tigers said the Sri Lankan military killed innocent civilians in their drive to crush the rebels.

Unlike the U.N. Security Council, the human rights body cannot impose sanctions, but its resolutions are meant to apply moral and political pressure.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which has evacuated 14,000 sick and wounded people and their families from the Sri Lankan war zone since February, said it still did not have full access to its military-run camps for displaced people.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger cited huge needs for aid and medical care for those sheltering in facilities such Manik Farm, which holds about 210,000 people.

It is "still not clear" whether Sri Lanka will allow aid workers to reach people needy help, Kellenberger said. "We are in discussions with them," he told a news conference in Geneva.

The United Nations estimates Sri Lanka’s civil war killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people since it erupted in 1983. The Sri Lankan military says lost 6,200 troops and killed 22,000 Tigers in the nearly three years of the war’s final phase. (Additional reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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