Getting civilians out of Sri Lankan combat zone top priority – UN

29 April 2009The estimated 50,000 people still trapped in the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka are at great risk and the top priority must be to get them out as quickly as possible, the top United Nations relief official stressed today, again appealing for a further humanitarian pause in the fighting. “These people are in great danger from the continuing fighting,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters in New York, noting that the previously so-called ‘no-fire zone’ can now be more accurately described as a combat zone, given the ongoing clashes between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). “They’re not only in danger from the shelling and the shooting but also because their position in terms of food and other basic supplies is also very poor,” said Mr. Holmes, who just returned from a two-day mission to Sri Lanka that included a meeting with President Mahinda Rajapakse, as well as a visit to a site for internally displaced persons (IDPs).The UN has been urging the Government for a further humanitarian pause for the sake of the people trapped in the conflict zone. “So far the Government has not been willing to contemplate that on the grounds that the LTTE simply exploits any pause to regroup militarily and continue their resistance,” Mr. Holmes said. “But we continue to ask for that, not least to get in more humanitarian aid, to get in more food.”During his meeting with the President, Mr. Holmes also stressed the need for access for UN humanitarian staff to the combat zone to assess what the conditions and the needs of the civilians. However, he was told that such a mission at this time would not be safe or appropriate.“It’s disappointing that we’ve not been able to achieve the kind of further humanitarian pause that we’re looking for or the kind of humanitarian mission into the combat zone that we’re looking for but we will continue to pursue those issues. “Meanwhile, it’s very important that the Government exercises restraint, particularly the use of heavy weapons, which they’ve said again earlier in the week they will not use in that zone,” he stressed. “I hope very much that that promise will be respected.”He added that it is vital that the LTTE let the civilians who they are holding against their will go, let them out to safety and preferably lay down their arms and surrender to prevent further fighting and further loss of life. “Unfortunately at the moment, both sides are pursuing their military logics, if I can put it that way, and therefore that’s the reason why we’re in such a difficult position,” stated Mr. Holmes, who also serves as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.The UN estimates that the number of people who have crossed out of the conflict zone is now some 175,000, the vast majority of whom are in and around Vavuniya. The exodus of about 110,000 people just in the course of last week, noted Mr. Holmes, has posed, despite advance planning, very considerable logistical challenges in terms of shelter, food and other basic services.According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), one of the most serious concerns is congestion in the camps. Shelter in the camps remains inadequate, and there is an urgent need for the allocation of more land by the Government in which to house the displaced. Health facilities continue to be overwhelmed and more capacity is needed. Water and sanitation remain key concerns, with some areas having only one toilet for 140 people. Although all IDPs have drinking water, there is inadequate water for other purposes. Psychological trauma is also a serious issue.In addition to the immediate concerns, Mr. Holmes also cited the need to address issues such as the long-term future of the people in the camps, how much freedom of movement they will be allowed, and how quickly they will be able to return to their homes, as well as questions about family reunification and the military presence in the camps. read more

First Nations gather for powwow commemorating Regina residential school

TROY FLEECE / Regina Leader-Post The grand march of the The Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS) Powwow which was held beside the Cowessess Gas and Grocery Store just east of Regina. After walking more than 20 kilometres to bring the spirits of children buried in unmarked graves, a group of nine people was welcomed with drums and singing into the Regina Indian Industrial School Powwow.Under sunny skies and a massive tent, First Nations from across Treaty 4 territory — including Ochapowace, Kahkewistahaw and Zagime — gathered on Cowessess First Nations’ urban land southeast of Regina on Saturday afternoon.Dancers — both young and old — took to the circle in the middle of the tent in intricate and brightly coloured ceremonial regalia, commemorating the children lying in unmarked graves at the Regina Indian Industrial School (RIIS) site.But for Chief Cadmus Delorme, and the others who walked with him, the event started much earlier.Around 9 a.m. the group set off on foot from the RIIS gravesite just west of the city, walking more than 20 kilometres in four hours to reach the powwow. Four kokums (grandmothers) also walked the entire distance, and Delorme said when his strength was flagging toward the end, he looked to those women and felt stronger.Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet,but your article continues below.Delorme explained that the walk was to bring the spirits of the children buried in the RIIS gravesite to the event so they could heal as well.“The purpose of this is for us to all heal collectively on Treaty 4, so what we did is we walked those spirits here,” he said.“We wanted to heal a little bit by walking those spirits to a powwow that’s in Regina, so this powwow is for the Regina people, but at the same time the Regina Indian Industrial School has some closure.” The RIIS operated between 1891 and 1910, and it is not known how many students died there.Glenn Pelletier, one of the event organizers and a member of Cowessess First Nation, is a residential school survivor. He attended the Lebret Indian Industrial Residential School for two years.A traditional First Nations dancer himself, Pelletier said dancing at a powwow like this also helps him heal.“We can’t dwell on that hurt or that pain. We have to go above it … To dance and then see everybody here together, it just lifts the heart,” he said.“It’s really important that we work together collectively and that we do things together to strengthen who we are, what we are and what we want to be.”This is the second annual Regina Indian Industrial School [email protected] read more