Foreign Office: Sri Lankan civilians caught in conflict our first concern

May 15, 2009 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

by Amy Bourke

The Sri Lankan government was condemned for causing a civilian “bloodbath” by MPs in the House of Commons yesterday.

The Sri Lankan army has been fighting the LTTE in the North East since 2005, but are now moving towards the rebels’ last piece of land, which is no bigger than 5sq km.

Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammel, said: “The first, and most immediately pressing, concern is the fate of the civilians who are still caught in the conflict area.

“The lack of independent observers makes it impossible to be certain of the facts, but the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross estimate that there are anything between 50,000 and 100,000 civilians still trapped in an area that, to put it in context, is slightly larger than the combined area of St. James’s and Green parks.”

There have been reports of many civilian casualties caused by heavy weapons, despite the Sri Lankan Government’s commitment on 27 April to stop using “heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons”. The UN estimates that more than 6,500 civilians have died in the conflict since January.

Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Keith Simpson said: “I think that most people believe that this was a clear breach by the Sri Lankan Government, who should be told that not only the military commanders but the political leaders may well be held to account, as they should be, in the international court of opinion and, indeed, international law.”

Lib Dem MP Malcolm Bruce visited Sri Lanka with a delegation of MPs last week.

He revealed that the media were denied access to the civilian camps, that food was not arriving to the camps at an “even speed”, and that there was pressure on water and sanitisation as well as medical supplies.

MPs expressed their desire to speak up for their Tamil constituents.

John McDonnell MP (Lab, Hayes and Harlington) said: “The word “genocide” has been mentioned. Most members of my Tamil community believe genocide has taken place, and I must concur with them now because of the numbers of those who have died and been injured, and because of the targeting, in this small area, of this community.”

Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary David Miliband and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton issued a joint statement urging for trapped civilians to be released safely.

Many MPs also voiced their support for the Tamil protestors in Parliament Square, who have been demonstrating for the past five weeks, urging the UK government to intervene in the crisis.

Mr Simpson said: “Although they have inconvenienced large parts of London, they have been within the natural bounds of such demonstrations. Given that many of them have relatives who have been killed, injured or wounded, or are under threat of all three, there is a natural emotion there.”


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