UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has sent his chief of staff to Sri Lanka, where the world body is trying to arrange for thousands of civilians trapped by fighting to escape, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday.
Spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters the official, Vijay Nambiar, was already in Sri Lanka, but gave no details of his activities there.
“The Secretary-General is doing his utmost to alleviate the situation and in that regard he continues a number of high-level contacts,” Haq said.
Following a 25-year-long conflict, Sri Lanka’s military has the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) encircled in a 7 square mile (17 square km) strip of northeastern coastline, along with tens of thousands of civilians they have forced to stay with them.
“One of the points we want to stress in this regard is that we continue to be concerned that the (LTTE) do not appear to have responded constructively to the request to allow civilians to leave, and we found this to be truly disappointing,” Haq said.
U.N. officials say they have also been pushing the Sri Lankan government to stop shelling areas where civilians are concentrated.
Earlier this week, the government declared a two-day truce, but U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes said on Wednesday it had not enabled more civilians to get out of the encircled area or significant amounts of aid to get in.
U.N. officials said they were hoping the Sri Lankan government would soon allow a longer and more effective truce.
One official said Nambiar, an Indian career diplomat who has also served in the past as a deputy national security adviser to the Indian government, would “talk to as wide a range of actors as he can” in Sri Lanka.
But officials conceded that, with the conflict area closed off, it was not easy to find people to talk to on the Tamil Tigers side. Nambiar was expected to spend just a few days in Sri Lanka, they said.
Reporting by Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Eric Beech