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Media release

7 October 2008

Bombing in Sri Lanka

The Australian Government condemns the suicide bombing in the north of Sri Lanka on 6 October which has killed over 25 and injured more than 65 people.

Among those killed was local opposition leader Major-General Janaka Perera and his wife Vajira Perera. Mr Perera was a former Sri Lankan High Commissioner to Australia. The Australian Government sends its most sincere condolences to the Perera family and to the families of all those killed and injured in this terrible attack.

Australia is deeply concerned about the increasing violence in Sri Lanka and the humanitarian impact of escalating conflict in the north of the country. Fighting has intensified as Sri Lankan Government security forces seek to establish control over territory in the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Australia recognises the right of the Sri Lankan Government to undertake measured action, consistent with international law, to secure control over its national territory. At the same time, it is vital that the Government and all institutions of the state make every effort to avoid any civilian casualties and act swiftly and on a sustained basis to mitigate humanitarian hardship from the conflict. This is, of course, a profound responsibility for any democratic government.

The Australian Government welcomes recent statements by the Sri Lankan leadership acknowledging the Government’s responsibility for ensuring that civilians in the conflict areas are protected from the fighting and that their basic needs for food, shelter and human dignity are met.

United Nations and other international agencies have been playing a central role in helping to support vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka. This role remains crucial. Australia urges the Sri Lankan Government to continue working closely with UN and other agencies to support the welfare of the large number of Sri Lankan citizens displaced and otherwise affected by the conflict. The dedicated staff of UN agencies, international NGOs and the International Committee for the Red Cross in Sri Lanka are undertaking vital work in difficult circumstances.

It is encouraging that the Sri Lankan Government is taking a constructive approach to facilitating the continued delivery of essential food and other items to displaced civilians in the conflict area. These efforts need to continue on a sustained basis so that essential supplies can reach needy populations without discrimination.

It is crucial that Government agencies and international organisations continue to work together to ensure those who flee the fighting are able to get access to essential support in a way that preserves their dignity, their family structures and their human rights. Civilians displaced into government-held areas must be given early and ongoing support and adequate welfare conditions; their basic civil liberties must be protected, including where it is necessary for people to be housed in temporary camps. Communities must also be given livelihoods and other equal opportunities once they are returned or resettled.

Australia remains committed to supporting these efforts through the substantial humanitarian assistance we provide to Sri Lanka. Australia is providing food, protection, emergency shelter, essential non-food relief items, water, sanitation and livelihood opportunities for large numbers of Sri Lankans affected by the conflict. Our assistance will continue to be delivered through multilateral agencies in cooperation with the Sri Lankan Government, helping to address the grave humanitarian needs faced by conflict-affected communities in Sri Lanka.

Both sides to the conflict need to be held accountable to their responsibilities in the conduct of hostilities. Both sides must act in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian norms.

Australia calls on the LTTE to heed international law. This means allowing freedom of movement to civilians in areas under its control, taking steps to minimise the risk to civilians from the conflict, allowing safe and unimpeded passage for humanitarian workers and essential supplies and acting immediately to end forced and underage recruitment in accordance with the Paris Principles.

Australia’s very strong view remains that Sri Lanka's conflict cannot be resolved through military means alone. We consider a political solution to be essential for long-term peace in a country which has been suffering for so long from conflict. In this regard, it is crucial that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are upheld, allowing the democratic political process to function properly in the search for a settlement. The Australian Government urges all parties to act with urgency to bring forward a sustainable political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankans.

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