FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you Mr. President.
Under-Secretary-General Holmes, let me thank you for your briefing today-and for your efforts to address the mounting humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. The United States is deeply concerned by the situation in Sri Lanka, where fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tigers has led to a growing and grave humanitarian crisis that has left innocent civilians pinned down and desperate. We are very concerned by the serious allegations against both parties of violations of international humanitarian law.
Despite the Government of Sri Lanka's promise to suspend combat operations, multiple accounts indicate that shelling into the conflict zone continues. We have also received reports of alarming number of civilian casualties. Very credible reports also indicate that the Tamil Tigers are using civilians as human shields-and have, in some cases, shot at civilians trying to leave the conflict area. I hope we can all agree that this is utterly unacceptable. Both the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers must abide by their commitments to prevent further loss of civilian life. We renew our call to the Tigers to lay down their arms and allow civilians to depart, and we call on all parties to abide by international humanitarian law. On April 28, limited quantities of food were delivered to the conflict zone-the first such delivery in more than three weeks. We welcome the arrival of this sorely needed aid, but we are deeply concerned that critical medicines were not able to reach the conflict area as well.
We share Under-Secretary-General Holmes' disappointment that the Government of Sri Lanka has not yet allowed a UN humanitarian team into the conflict zone to facilitate relief operations and the safe evacuation of civilians. We urge the Sri Lankan government to reconsider. This Council must also grapple with the sheer scope of the problem. Latest reports indicate that more than 170,000 displaced persons have registered in government-controlled camps. The Government of Sri Lanka must allow the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all sites where newly arrived displaced persons are being registered or being provided shelter.
We welcome the news that some 400 displaced persons returned to their homes on April 29, and we hope that the government will keep its commitment and continue the resettlement process. The April 29 visit by Ministers Miliband and Kouchner demonstrates the international community's deep concern with this unfolding humanitarian crisis.
We are disappointed that Swedish Foreign Minister Bildt was not able to travel with them and find it hard to understand why the Government of Sri Lanka would turn him away. Both sides have responsibilities to meet. And in the face of this worsening crisis, all of us in this chamber have responsibilities too.
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