By Uditha Jayasinghe
In the wake of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcoming
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s announcement of safe passage for
all civilians, a group of 116 people entered government
controlled areas yesterday.
Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told The Nation
that these civilians had managed to arrive in
Vishwamadu and Pulmudai areas uninjured and had been taken to
camps for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) nearby. He
stated that 60 people including 16 children had managed to
safely arrive in
Pulmudai while the remainder had travelled to Vishwamadu from
the conflict area.
This group is in addition to 65 civilians that crossed over on
Friday. However, the Spokesman noted that civilians trapped in
the last patch of land still occupied by the LTTE had still not
had the opportunity to take advantage of the safe passage period
to cross over to government held areas.
“Civilians must travel for about 2-3km to get behind the front
defence lines of the government forces. So far we have not had
any reports of civilians doing so but displaced people from
surrounding areas are still continuing to arrive. The
International Committee of the Red Cross has not yet approached
the government to discuss measures for safe passage,” he said.
These events follow close on the heels of an UN statement
released on Friday praising the government for its stance of
declaring a 48 hour safe passage. However, the UN Chief also
said he was still concerned by the threat to the estimated
250,000 civilians caught in the area, who are in close proximity
to the fighting.
He urged the government and the LTTE to “do all in their power
to make this safe passage a reality, and to ensure the
protection of civilians in accordance with international
The Secretary-General called on the LTTE, in particular, to
allow civilians in the conflict zone to move to where they feel
most secure, including areas controlled by the government.
He also called on the government to ensure that those civilians
arriving from the Wanni and other conflict areas are treated in
accordance with international standards.
“Such standards include guaranteeing their freedom of movement,
providing basic services and allowing full access by
humanitarian agencies,” he said. “For its part, the United
Nations stands ready to provide the necessary humanitarian
assistance,” the statement said adding that the
Secretary-General strongly underlines the need for urgent steps
towards a speedy and orderly end to the fighting.