Protection of children caught in Sri Lankan conflict first priority – UN

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“Images of children killed, maimed and wounded from the Vanni area of Sri Lanka are truly disturbing,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said in a statement, referring to the area in which some 250,000 civilians are trapped by the fighting.Ms. Coomaraswamy said that the LTTE must release the civilians to safety, especially the children, and the Government must be more careful with its artillery fire and aerial bombardment to avoid civilian casualties.She stressed that the international community has a duty to work with the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that the treatment of internally displaced children meets international standards, adding that child soldiers must be rehabilitated, not punished.The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has voiced alarm over the LTTE’s stepped-up recruitment of child soldiers, having recorded some 6,000 such cases between 2003 and the end of last year.UNICEF said it is also concerned over the high number of children sustaining injuries – including burns, fractures, and shrapnel and bullet wounds – in the Vanni region, from which many wounded children have been evacuated in the past two weeks.Also today, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes travelled to Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka, on the second day of his three-day visit to the country, to assess the condition of people who have recently fled the conflict zone. Accompanied by Basil Rajapakse, Senior Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Holmes visited two sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and met with local authorities and representatives of humanitarian agencies working on the ground, a UN spokesperson said. 20 February 2009The United Nations official charged with the welfare of children in armed conflict today urged that priority attention be given to the fate of children in northern Sri Lanka, where Government forces are battling the separatists Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

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