17 March 2009Deploring the mounting toll of children killed and injured in the zone of combat between Sri Lankan Government forces and Tamil rebels, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called for “extraordinary efforts” to protect them. In addition to the hundreds killed, thousands are now vulnerable to disease and malnutrition because of a critical lack of food, water and medicines in the conflict area, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in a statement.“Regular, safe access for humanitarian agencies is urgently required, so that lifesaving supplies can be provided, and civilians must be allowed to move to safe areas where essential humanitarian support is more readily available,” Ms. Veneman said. “The rights of children caught in the conflict must be fully respected and every effort should be taken to prevent civilian casualties,” she added. She noted that UNICEF, together with other UN agencies and partners, is providing emergency water and sanitation, health, nutrition, protection and education support for many of the estimated 40,000 people who have been able to leave the conflict zone. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other top UN officials have been calling on the Sri Lankan Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to suspend hostilities to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and allow immediate humanitarian access to them since the latest round of the long-running conflict flared a few months ago.