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US Congressional hearing assesses sitution in Sri Lanka

By Dan Robinson
Courtesy: Voice of America

(April 22, Washington, Sri Lanka Guardian) The situation in Sri Lanka, where government forces are fighting to eliminate the last stronghold of Tamil separatist rebels, was the subject of a U.S. congressional hearing Tuesday.

Discussion of the military conflict and what the United Nations and human rights groups call a dire humanitarian situation came during a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, formerly known as the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.

Representative Jim McGovern chaired the hearing: "The particular case we are exploring this afternoon, Sri Lanka, is a situation where both the government forces and the Tamil Tigers have abdicated their responsibility to protect from mass atrocities civilian non-combatant who are caught in the cross-fire of war," said Jim McGovern. "It has therefore fallen to the international community, and especially humanitarian organizations like UNHCR and the ICRC, along with a handful of NGO's, to try to assure their safety."

Amin Awad, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative to Sri Lanka, said 100,000 civilians have been on the move in the last 48 hours, adding to an already large population of 180,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs).

"The 100,000 who just left the no-fire zone are being processed by the [Sri Lankan] army in the district of Kilinochchi and the district of Mullaitivu," said Amin Awad. "This will become an extra burden on the already-meager resources and the limited space the government of Sri Lanka provided to receive the IDP's."

Awad puts the number of civilians remaining in the Tamil zone at 50,000 to 60,000, which he calls a conservative estimate. The United Nations and Human rights groups have urged the Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists to exercise restraint, with Awad urging additional humanitarian pauses. However, both came under sharp criticism in Tuesday's hearing.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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