Page last updated at 03:18 GMT, Saturday, 25 April 2009 04:18 UK

US calls for Sri Lanka ceasefire

Ethnic Tamils at a camp northeast of Colombo (24/04/2009)
Officials say some of those trapped are dying of starvation

The US has called for an immediate ceasefire in north-eastern Sri Lanka, to allow thousands of civilians to leave the country's combat zone.

The White House said it was "deeply concerned" by reports of human rights violations and civilian deaths.

The UN humanitarian chief, John Holmes, is travelling to Sri Lanka for talks with the government on getting aid to people trapped in the conflict.

The UN says more than 160,000 people have fled the area but 50,000 remain.

In the first official US statement on the situation, the White House said it was "deeply concerned about the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers and the mounting death toll".

It called on both sides to adhere to international humanitarian law and to "stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone".

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday that he was sending a humanitarian team into the heart of the fighting to monitor the situation.

The UN Security Council has called on Colombo to allow the team in.

Some 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped with Tamil Tiger fighters in a 12 sq km (5 sq m) area in the north of the country as Sri Lanka's military closes in on the rebels.

The Sri Lankan army has said there can be no more pauses in fighting until the rebels are defeated.

UN statement

John Holmes, March 2007
Mr Holmes leaves on Saturday for a three-day visit to Sri Lanka

Mr Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, is expected to leave for Sri Lanka on Saturday.

On Friday, he told the BBC he had called on both sides to bring the conflict to a "peaceful and orderly" end.

"Even if LTTE is destroyed as a conventional military force, that's not necessarily going to lead to the kind of generous political solution that is going to be needed ultimately," he said.

"So it's in everybody's interest to find a peaceful solution if we can."

At a meeting in New York, the Security Council president, Claude Heller of Mexico, told reporters that Sri Lanka's government must "extend all necessary support to the UN mission" so UN and Red Cross workers can help displaced people.

The BBC's UN correspondent Laura Trevelyan said that because China, Russia and other countries see Sri Lanka's crisis as an internal problem rather than a threat to international security, the call came in the form of a statement to the press rather than a formal resolution.

Humanitarian disaster

A UN document being circulated around diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka estimates that nearly 6,500 civilians have died and 14,000 have been injured since the end of January.

A government official in the war zone told AP news agency that there was a severe shortage of food and medicine in the area, and that people were dying of starvation.

Indian envoys met Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on Friday to express their concern about civilian casualties and the plight of those who already fled.

"The president was receptive to our views and we are hopeful of a positive outcome," Indian National Security Adviser MK Narayanan told the BBC Sinhala service.

Despite the international calls to allow civilians out, the government has vowed to keep up its fight against the Tigers.

Sri Lanka map

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