Louis Charbonneau / Reuters – 2009-05-12 22:19:24
UNITED NATIONS (May 11, 2009) — British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Monday he was appalled by reports that hundreds of Sri Lankan civilians were killed during the weekend in what the United Nations has described as a “bloodbath.”
Miliband raised doubts about whether Colombo could be trusted at the moment to use a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund appropriately. “I am appalled by reports that came out of Sri Lanka over the weekend of mass civilian casualties,” he told reporters ahead of a U.N. Security Council meeting on unrelated matters.
In the latest and largest reported assault on civilians trapped in the war zone, hundreds of people were reported killed on Sunday and Monday in artillery barrages that struck the narrow strip of territory that separatist rebels control. A UN spokesman in Sri Lanka said more than 100 children had been killed in the weekend “bloodbath” as the government tries to wipe out the last remnants of Tamil Tiger rebels.
The stakes could not be higher for either Sri Lanka, which does not want its impending victory in the 25-year war snatched away, or the Tigers, who have vowed no surrender despite facing overwhelming numbers, force and odds.
Miliband said he had spoken with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama about the reported deaths and intended to speak with him again later on Monday.
Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner will host a meeting on Monday of concerned U.N. delegations and non-governmental organizations active on the ground at which they hope to increase pressure on Colombo to protect civilians and allow journalists and aid workers into the conflict zone.
“Our message is a simple one, which is that the killing must stop,” Miliband said. “The civilians … trapped in the zone, up to 50,000 in an area of just 3 square kilometers (1.6 square miles) are the victims of what at the moment is a war without witness.”
SECURITY COUNCIL INACTION
Diplomats on the 15-nation Security Council have said Japan, China, Russia and Vietnam oppose formal council discussion of Sri Lanka, arguing that it is an internal matter for the Sri Lankan government but Miliband disagreed.
“I believe very, very strongly that the civilian situation in the northeast of Sri Lanka merits the attention of the United Nations at all levels,” he said, calling it a “civilian catastrophe.”
The Security Council has held several informal meetings on Sri Lanka but has taken no action. Council diplomats said after an April 30 meeting that members agreed there was no point in punishing the Sri Lankan government, despite concerns that it has not taken sufficient precautions to protect civilians.
U.S. officials said last month they wanted to delay a $1.9 billion IMF loan Sri Lanka is hoping to get to pressure the government to do more to help the civilians trapped in the conflict zone. Miliband indicated that he supported this view. “It’s essential that any government is able to show that it will use any IMF money in a responsible and appropriate way, and … I don’t think that’s yet the case,” he said.
Editing by Bill Trott
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