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Sri Lankan Civilians Need Protection

The situation is desperate for Sri Lankan civilians trapped in a no-fire zone between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, a U.S. – designated foreign terrorist organization.

Since January of this year, Sri Lankan government troops have gradually driven LTTE fighters from their bases in the northern reaches of the island country into a narrow strip of jungle and sand in the Vanni.

The United Nations estimates that trapped with the rebels are over 100,000 civilians who are taking refuge in the no-fire zone. According to the U.N., the no-fire area is being shelled by the Sri Lankan military, and the rebels are firing back.

Human Rights Watch, a New York-based non-governmental human rights advocacy organization, says that the no-fire zone is so densely packed with civilians and remnants of the LTTE that any shooting or shelling must inevitably cause casualties.

"Sri Lanka's so-called 'no-fire zone' is now one of the most dangerous places in the world," said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia director.

On April 9th and 13th there were conference calls between the U.S. Department of State and the other Tokyo Co-Chairs, a group of international donors for Sri Lanka, comprised of Japan, the European Union, Norway and the U.S., in order to discuss the humanitarian situation in the Vanni.

The Co-Chairs urge the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to protect the civilians, to respect the no-fire zone so as not to cause any further civilian casualties, and welcomed the 48-hour "humanitarian pause" announced by the government on April 12. The Co-Chairs urge both sides to facilitate the immediate shipment of food and medicine, and the immediate evacuation of sick and wounded.

The United States calls on all combatants to take all necessary steps to protect the civilian population of Sri Lanka. "Internally displaced people need to be allowed to leave the conflict zone should they wish to do so, and that should be facilitated by both sides," Deputy State Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid said in March of this year.

"We call on both sides in the conflict to respect the rights of non-combatants to allow humanitarian aid to flow freely to those who need it".