UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council finally spoke out
on the tragedy in Sri Lanka, telling the government to stop
firing heavy artillery at civilians in a war zone and the Tamil
Tiger rebels to "lay down their arms" and allow non-combatants
to leave the conflict area.
But the statement, endorsed by all 15 member nations on
Wednesday, was issued to the press rather than at a formal
meeting or in a legal document. Still the action, the body's
first response to the bloody conflict, was considered by its
main sponsors - Britain, France and Austria, backed by the
United States - as putting public pressure on Sri Lanka.
Said Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers: "This is an
important step forward by the Security Council....We have for
the first time produced an official written statement by the
council addressing the worsening humanitarian crisis in Sri
The move came in response to the largest report attack on
civilians over the weekend, called a "bloodbath" by a U.N.
spokesman. Hundreds were reported killed after government troops
attacked a narrow strip of northeast beach territory in an
effort to surround the rebels. Some 50,000 civilians are
believed trapped in what was once a "no-fire zone." U.N. figures
last month estimated that more than 6,400 civilians had been
killed in three months of fighting this year, many used as human
shields by the Tamil Tigers who have not let them leave the
President Obama in Washington also spoke out forcefully ,
telling reporters: "Tens of thousands of innocent civilians are
trapped between the warring government forces and the Tamil
Tigers in Sri Lanka with no means of escape, little access to
food, water, shelter and medicine," he said. "Without urgent
action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe."
He urged the Tamil Tigers to halt warfare and release civilians
and said the government should stop using heavy weapons, stop
"indiscriminate shelling" and allow international aid groups
access to refugees in camps, some reported in deplorable
Russia, China, Libya and Vietnam had opposed putting the issue
on the agenda of the Security Council, the U.N.'s most powerful
body, considering the war an internal matter rather than a
threat to international peace and security. But they relented in
issuing a statement after the Western council members agreed to
discuss a U.N. report on Israel's war in January in Gaza that
the United States and its allies did not want raised, diplomats
said. The council issued a brief press statement, shorter than
the one on Sri Lanka, expressing concern about the report's
findings, which were critical of Israel.
The Council's Sri Lanka statement "strongly" condemned the LTTE
(Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) "for its acts of terrorism
over many years and for its continued use of civilians as human
shields." It acknowledged the "legitimate right of the
Government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism" and demanded the
LTTE lay down its arms and allow "tens of thousands" of
civilians in the conflict zone to leave.
It said the Sri Lankan government should "fulfill its
commitment" in regard to reports "of continued use of heavy
caliber weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians."
The Council also called on the government to allow "urgent
delivery of humanitarian assistance" and to cooperate with aid
groups, such as the United Nations and the International
Committee of the Red Cross.
The Colombo government has said it stopped using heavy artillery
in that area almost three weeks ago. But there have been steady
reports from the region of indiscriminate artillery raids by
government forces, including attacks on makeshift hospitals.
The description of a "bloodbath" came on Monday from the U.N.
spokesman in Sri Lanka, Gordon Weiss: "The U.N. has consistently
warned against the bloodbath scenario as we've watched the
steady increase in civilian deaths over the last few months. The
large-scale killing of civilians over the weekend including the
deaths of more than 100 children, shows that that bloodbath as
become a reality."
Sri Lanka, a former British colony, has been wracked by violent
conflict for most of the past 25 years, suffering more than
100,000 deaths in fighting between the separatist Tamil Tigers,
who traditionally lived in the northern and eastern regions, and
Sinhalese, who inhabit the central and southern regions. A peace
process began in 2002 but talks broke down and a ceasefire
agreement crumbled in 2006 when full-scale military action
resumed. The fighting escalated in 2008, with the government
having won nearly all the territory in the Northern Province.