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Sri Lankan Government and Tamil Tiger rebels must make a greater commitment to safeguard minority rights

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Sri Lankan Government and Tamil Tiger rebels must make a greater commitment to safeguard minority rights

Sri Lanka's minorities, including its 1.5 million Muslims, have been the worst affected in the recent surge in violence and both the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger rebels must make a greater commitment to safeguard minority rights and provide equal access to humanitarian assistance, Minority Rights Group said today.

The London based human rights organisation calls on both the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tiger rebels to urgently stop fighting, strictly observe the cease-fire and ensure the protection of minorities in their areas of control.

"The area where recent fighting has broken out is predominantly Muslim and Tamil and we are concerned at the risk to life, security and property that these minority communities face," says Clive Baldwin, Head of International Advocacy at MRG.

"In most conflicts there are always the forgotten minorities. The most vulnerable at present are probably the Muslims," Baldwin adds.

Muslims form 7 percent of the near 20 million population of Sri Lanka and are the majority community in the town of Muttur, which has been at the centre of recent fighting. Following the attacks Muslims have had to flee to predominantly Sinhalese villages and are being housed in schools and other temporary shelters, with limited facilities. The Sri Lankan Tamils who form the largest minority and are also part of the population of Muttur have reportedly fled to areas under Tamil Tiger control. Several thousand Muslims and Tamils remain trapped in areas where fighting continues.

"The specific needs of the Muslims and Tamils must be taken into consideration. Minority women in camps are likely to be in a particularly vulnerable situation." Baldwin says.

As international agencies warn of a humanitarian crisis, MRG is particularly concerned about the situation of displaced people and the impediments to aid agencies operating in the area.

"In situations of conflict minority communities are often the last to be given access to aid and we hope this will not be the case in Sri Lanka," Baldwin adds.

MRG calls on both the government and Tamil rebels to give international and local aid agencies unimpeded access to the affected areas. The aim should be to facilitate the free return, in safety, of minority communities to their homes as quickly as possible.

MRG also urges the government and LTTE to return to the negotiating process in order to find a permanent solution to the country's conflict. The group says it is critical that when peace talks resume all communities are represented in the process.

For further information or for interview requests please contact Farah Mihlar on 00442074554205 (office) 00447870596863 (mobile) or e-mail farah.mihlar@mrgmail.org

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