Sri Lanka

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 2nd May 2007.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 6:31 pm, 2nd May 2007

I am sure that my hon. Friend will forgive me if at this stage I do not speculate on an unknown outcome. As I have said, a solution in Sri Lanka will have to be reached through negotiation and compromise, and I hope that that message is well understood.

Many Members touched on the humanitarian situation, reflecting on the impact of the conflict on the civilian population. Much of the recent fighting has occurred in heavily populated areas of the east. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced over the past year. Recent reporting by UN agencies suggests that malnutrition remains a real concern for many living in internally displaced person camps. Those camps are not the places of refuge that they should be from the killings and political abductions that are scarring Sri Lanka.

In the north, the situation in Jaffna is particularly grim. It is a city of 600,000 people and it remains cut off from the rest of the country. We agree with the co-chairs of the peace process—the EU, Norway, Japan and the United States—that there should be

"immediate, permanent and unconditional opening of the sea and road routes"— the A9 has been referred to—

"for humanitarian convoys of essential supplies."

As the intensity of the fighting has increased, the space for humanitarian agencies to operate in has become much more constricted. Both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE have a responsibility to ensure that humanitarian agencies are able to get full access to civilians in need of support. Crucially, they should respect the neutrality of humanitarian agencies. Seeing humanitarian agencies as legitimate targets for vilification because they support peace may jeopardise the security of their staff.

According to figures compiled by Reuters, Sri Lanka is one of the most dangerous places in the world for humanitarian workers to operate. In 2006, 23 were killed, 17 of them in a terrible murder near Trincomalee in August. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and numerous non-governmental organisations for the selfless work that they do in Sri Lanka.