April 24, 2009 / 6:38 PM / 10 years ago

U.N. council to Sri Lanka: Let U.N. into conflict zone

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Security Council urged Sri Lanka on Friday to cooperate with a U.N. humanitarian mission that wants to visit the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka, where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped.

Sri Lankan government soldiers stand behind a display of weapons they say were captured from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) near the town of Kilinochchi located near the 'No Fire Zone' in northern Sri Lanka April 24, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray

“We underlined today the immediate and pressing priority of addressing the grave humanitarian situation in northeastern Sri Lanka,” said Mexican U.N. Ambassador Claude Heller, the current president of the Security Council.

“The members of the Security Council called also on the government of Sri Lanka to extend all the necessary support to the U.N. mission to allow the U.N. and the ICRC access to all sites where displaced persons are being registered ... and to fulfill their commitments with regard to facilitating humanitarian access,” Heller said after a council meeting.

Earlier this week, the council called on Sri Lankan government and rebel forces to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and urged the Tamil rebels to surrender.

Government forces are trying to finish off a 25-year-old war with Tamil Tiger separatists and have pinned them in a small area in the north of the island. Tens of thousands of civilians have poured out of areas formerly controlled by the rebels and are living in refugee camps.

Diplomats said the Sri Lankan government had been sending mixed signals about whether a planned U.N. mission would be allowed into the conflict zone. They said diplomatic pressure was now piling up on the government, which had previously agreed to allow the mission into the zone.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said on Friday that John Holmes, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, would go to Sri Lanka over the weekend to discuss the plight of the refugees.

U.N. officials said Holmes was expected to arrive early Sunday.

Diplomats and U.N. officials say they have received reports of abuses during the screening of people who have escaped from the shrinking conflict zone, where the United Nations says the Tamil rebels have been using civilians as human shields.

Holmes would also seek the release of all U.N. staff detained in camps, Okabe said.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Doina Chiacu

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