Amnesty urges UN to push for full access to Lanka

Human rights pressure group Amnesty International has urged the UN Security Council to demand that Sri Lanka gives full access to humanitarian organisations, as more than 300,000 displaced ethnic Tamils held in government camps suffer from lack of food and medicine.

"It is unacceptable for the Sri Lankan government to deny full and unimpeded access to the UN and other humanitarian and human rights organisations," Yvonne Terlingen, head of Amnesty's UN office, said late Thursday, hours before the Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were to meet.

"The UN secretary-general accepted assurances from the government on access for humanitarian agencies while he was in Sri Lanka and with each day that passes the credibility of the UN is eroded," Terlingen added.

Ban is to brief the council Friday on his latest visit to Sri Lanka, following the Sri Lankan government's May 18 declaration of victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"The Security Council must demand that the government of Sri Lanka gives immediate and full access to the UN, and other humanitarian and human rights organisations," Terlingen said. "In addition, the government must facilitate the deployment of UN human rights monitors to provide safeguards against violations."

The group also demanded an inquiry into possible war crimes committed by the government or the LTTE. Amnesty said it received reports over abuse and mistreatment in the camps, adding that the government was putting up a number of obstacles for aid groups.

According to British media reports, more than 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the last days of the island's 25-year civil war. Some were killed while being used as human shields by the LTTE, but most by army shelling, a claim the Sri Lankan government denies.

The Security Council so far dealt with Sri Lanka only on the sidelines of its meetings. According to diplomats in New York, permanent member China insisted that the conflict was an internal Sri Lankan matter.

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