In Sri Lanka, fighting has intensified between government forces and the insurgent Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers. Thousands of Sri Lankan civilians, many of whom are ethnic Tamils, are suffering as a result. As many as 200,000 men, women, and children are estimated to have been displaced.
The number of those civilians killed or injured in the fighting is not known, but the risk is great. Many of the refugees are short of food, water, and other necessities. The government of Sri Lanka recently requested that the United Nations and international humanitarian organizations depart areas of ongoing conflict in northern Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lanka Donor Co-Chairs, consisting of the European Union, Japan, Norway, and the United States, met in New York City on September 24th and stressed the need for humanitarian action to help civilians under threat.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said that the Co-Chairs are placing "a lot of emphasis right now on the protection of human rights for civilians who are caught in the fighting, and the democratic government's responsibility for respecting and extending human rights protection to the people in the areas that they [the Sri Lankan government] take over."
Another urgent need, said Assistant Secretary Boucher, is humanitarian access to those displaced and affected by the fighting. "Both sides need to make sure that they're not catching civilians in the crossfire, that they're letting people go to places where they can be safe, and that humanitarian deliveries can take place for these populations that are affected by the fighting," he said.
Mr. Boucher also said the Co-Chairs strongly support "United Nations organizations and humanitarian actors who are trying to take care of the displaced people and people affected by the fighting, working in government areas, working with the government" of Sri Lanka.
Since the Sri Lankan conflict began in 1983, more than 60,000 people have died and about one million others have been displaced. During 2007, the U.S. provided some $26 million in humanitarian aid to the displaced.
The United States urges all parties to the conflict in Sri Lanka to respect the human rights of all Sri Lankan civilians, including allowing freedom of movement and humanitarian access.