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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

U.N. Distressed Over Killings of Aid Workers

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 23 June, (IPS): The United Nations is distressed over the rising number of humanitarian personnel and aid workers attacked or killed recently while on relief missions in the world's war zones.

The death toll includes 24 aid workers in Sri Lanka, two Red Cross workers in Lebanon, two U.N. workers in Gaza, a member of Doctors Without Borders in the Central African Republic and a member of Caritas International in Darfur, Sudan. All of them were killed while on humanitarian missions.

"Countless thousands (of civilians) have been killed, injured, maimed, assaulted, humiliated, ignored and treated as less than human," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Homes said Friday.

Last week, 18 children died in separate attacks by insurgent and multi-national forces in Afghanistan.

The U.N. Mission in Iraq has estimated an average of about 94 civilians dying violently every day throughout 2006 due to military actions on all sides of the ongoing conflict.

And in the first three months of this year alone, over 700 civilians were killed and more than 1,200 injured in a rash of attacks in Iraq.

Last week, the bombing of a mosque in Baghdad resulted in over 200 civilians either dead or injured.

"Similar trends in countries such as Afghanistan, Lebanon and Somalia are profoundly worrying," Holmes said.

Admitting the U.N.'s own shortcomings, he told the Security Council: "It is hard not to conclude that for all our advocacy on behalf of civilians in need of protection, and for all the resources that are devoted to all aspects of protection by the humanitarian and peacekeeping communities, we are still failing to make a real and timely difference for the victims on the ground."

Holmes, who is also U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, returned to New York early this week after visits to some of the world's major trouble spots, including Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, northern Uganda and Somalia.

In each of these countries, and in too many other places as well, he said, "I have seen how hundreds of thousands of civilians have been uprooted from their ordinary lives by the effects of conflict and left stranded, their fate of no apparent consequence to those who fight around them."

Holmes said that killing humanitarian staff and arbitrarily denying access violates international humanitarian law. "It also threatens the lifeline to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people."

Concerned about the killings of humanitarian personnel, the Security Council held an open debate Friday on "Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict."

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Ambassador Michael von Ungern-Sternberg of Germany said that while the number of conflicts has declined since 1989, the number of civilians suffering the effects of armed conflict is continuously growing.

He also singled out the sexual exploitation and abuses in conflict zones and the illegal recruitment of child soldiers.

The German ambassador said the growing number of journalists killed in war zones, including Iraq, is also "extremely disturbing".

At the 2005 world summit in New York, more than 150 heads of state and heads of government adopted a resolution affirming the U.N.'s responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Ungern-Sternberg reminded member states that international humanitarian law urges all parties to allow full, unimpeded access by humanitarian personnel to civilians in need of assistance.

Meanwhile, last week's intra-Palestinian fighting in Gaza and the West Bank has triggered a humanitarian crisis in that region.

David Shearer, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, told reporters Thursday the situation in the conflict zone was "an extremely serious one."

He said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the World Food Programme had been able to deliver some food and medical supplies into Gaza in the last few days.

But the estimated 600 people, mostly civilians, needing regular treatment for cancer and other tertiary care that was not available in Gaza, have remained trapped and unable to leave.

Shearer warned that wheat flour and other essential supplies in Gaza would run out within two to three weeks, unless the main cargo crossing point into the territory -- closed recently by Israel -- was reopened soon.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency -

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