Obama warns of ‘catastrophe’ in Sri Lanka


Washington : US President Barack Obama has warned that the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka was worsening and urged the government and Tamil rebels to take steps to avoid a potential “catastrophe”.

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Obama Wednesday urged the Tamil separatists to lay down their weapons and allow the civilian population in the territory under its control to leave, and called on the government to provide better access for aid groups and to stop shelling in civilian areas.

“Without urgent action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe,” Obama said.

“Now’s the time to put aside some of the political issues that are involved and to put the lives of the men and women and children who are innocently caught in the crossfire, to put them first,” he said.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting for independence on the Indian Ocean island for 25 years. The government launched a major offensive weeks ago designed to deal a final blow to the rebels.

The offensive has taken a major toll, with more than 450 civilians dying in just the last few days. More than 20,000 civilians were estimated to live in the rebel-held territory of less than six square kilometres.

“The United States stands ready to work with the international community to support the people of Sri Lanka in this time of suffering,” Obama said.

“I don’t believe that we can delay. Now is the time for all of us to work together to avert further humanitarian suffering.”