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Urgent UN Security Council intervention needed on Sri Lanka.

22 April 2009

The UN Security Council should put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to suspend its military offensive in the north of the country to enable tens of thousands of trapped civilians to leave the battle zone, Minority Rights Group International said on Wednesday.

Following a two-day cease-fire the Sri Lankan military this week accelerated its offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels, putting an estimated 60-100,000 ethnic minority Tamil civilians at risk.

MRG has also called on the Tamil Tigers to stop using civilians as human shields and to let them leave the battle zone.

Unconfirmed reports from local human rights groups in Sri Lanka say that more than 300 people have been killed in fighting since Monday – many of them children – as the military makes a final push to take over a tiny strip of land where the Tigers are holding civilians captive.

The Sri Lankan military claims that most of the civilians have fled the area but according to aid workers on the ground at least 100,000 civilians remain trapped.

The UN Security Council has not yet had a formal meeting over Sri Lanka nor issued a statement on the situation despite permanent members UK, France and US calling for a cease-fire. Resistance for such a meeting or statement is reportedly coming from China and Russia.

Vijay Nambiar, Chief of Staff for the UN Secretary-General, was in Colombo over the weekend to discuss the civilian situation and expressed serious concern over the military's usage of heavy weapons against civilians.

MRG called on the Security Council to issue a statement calling for a humanitarian pause in the fighting. The Council is expected to be briefed on Sri Lanka on Wednesday by Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs who is also expected to provide some details of Mr. Nambiar's recent visit to Sri Lanka.

"This is no time to stop at briefings. The Security Council can't turn a blind eye to the human rights crisis that is taking place in Sri Lanka," Mark Lattimer, MRG's Director says. "The UN must pressure the Sri Lankan government to abide by its responsibility under international law to protect civilians".

According to official UN figures at least 4500 civilians have been killed in the recent fighting. Sri Lankan civil society groups say that figure is conservative and many more could be killed. At least three children are reported to be dying a day. Several thousands have been injured and hospitals in northern Sri Lanka are unable to cope with the large numbers being brought in. The fighting has caused a humanitarian catastrophe with some overflowing displaced camps ill-equipped to manage the numbers.

"There is an imminent danger of further large-scale loss of civilian life," Lattimer says. "Both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers should be warned they face allegations of committing serious violations of international humanitarian law – war crimes."

Notes to editors

Minority Rights Group is London based international human rights organization working to secure the rights of minority and indigenous communities across the world.

For further information and interviews contact MRG's Media team on 0044-2074224205 or 00447870596863.