UN, world leaders, condemn Sri Lanka terrorist attacks targeting churches, hotels, which leave more than 200 dead

More than 200 have been killed and hundreds injured by a series of explosions inside churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, as Christians gathered for services to celebrate Easter. In a statement, UN chief António Guterres said he was “outraged by the terror attacks” and called for the perpetrators to be “swiftly brought to justice”.

World Bank/Dominic SansoniVillage shop at dusk in Sri Lanka lit by solar panels.

According to news reports, three churches were targeted, in the cities of Batticaloa, Negombo, and the capital, Colombo. The Shangri-La, Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and another hotel, all in the capital, were also hit.  

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for carrying out the likely suicide bombings, but police have reportedly arrested seven people in connection with the attacks. 

The Secretary-General said in a statement that on what was “a sacred day for Christians around the world”, he recalled “the sanctity of all places of worship”.

The statement issued by his Spokesperson said the UN chief “expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, the people and Government of Sri Lanka, and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured”.

Guterres commends Sri Lankan leadership, and ‘unity of the people’

He also commended “the leadership demonstrated by the authorities and unity of the people in Sri Lanka in the wake of the attacks”

In a tweet, the UN’s Resident Coordinator for the Indian Ocean island, Hanaa Singer, said the UN  “strongly condemns the horrific attacks carried out against civilians and worshippers…Heartfelt condolences to the families, victims, Government and people”. She also urged Sri Lankans to stand united” in the face of the carnage. 

The President of the UN General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, also expressed her “deep sadness” in a tweet, saying that her thoughts were with the people of Sri Lanka, “affected by yet another act of senseless violence”. 

“We must unite in our common humanity to condemn these heinous acts and stop targetting innocent people, practicing their faith in peace”, she added. 

Sir Lanka’s bloody 26-year civil war waged between Government forces and Tamil separatists in the north, ended in 2009 with the defeat of the rebels, and in the years since, there has been sporadic violence, some targeting religious minorities.  

The island is home to around 1.5 million Christians, the vast majority Roman Catholic. The Singhalese majority are Buddhist – around 70 per cent of the population – with sizeable Hindu and Muslim minorites also. 

In response to Sunday’s attacks, a national curfew has been put in place, and social media networks have reportedly been blocked. 

Eye witness reports from St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo describe a scene of carnage, with dozens killed. There were also heavy casualties at St. Anthony’s in the Kochckicade district of Colombo, where the first blast detonated.  

Pope Francis, in his Easter Address outside St. Peter’s in Rome, reportedly expressed his “affectionate closeness” for the Christian community in Sri Lanka which had been struck while gathering for one of its biggest celebrations of the year, and his thoughts to “all the victims of such cruel violence” 

UN chief Guterres, concluded his statement reiterating the “supprt and solidarity of the United Nations, with the people and the Government of Sri Lanka, in this difficult moment for the nation.”

Killing of Egyptian peacekeeper in Mali ‘may constitute war crimes’ Guterres warns, urging ‘swift action’

An improvised roadside mine which exploded hitting a UN peacekeeping convoy in Mali, killing one ‘blue helmet’ from Egypt, and wounding four others, may constitute a war crime, the UN Chief said on Saturday, as senior UN officials condemned the blast. 

MINUSMA/Harandane DickoMINUSMA troops based in Kidal in the extreme north of Mali, ensure the security of the camp, and also the safety of the civilian population.

Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement on Saturday night in New York, giving details of the deadly bombing, which took place against a convoy of vehicles in central Mali, close to the border with Burkina Faso, belonging to the UN Mission, MINUSMA. The vehicles were en route between Douentza and Boni, in the Mopti region. 

“MINUSMA peacekeepers responded, killing an assailant and apprehending eight others,” said the UN chief, in the message issued by his Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric. “The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the family of the victim and to the Government of Egypt. He wishes a speedy recovery to those injured.” 

Attacks “targeting United Nations peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law”, the statement continued, and Mr. Guterres called on the Malian authorities to take “swift action to identify the perpetrators of this attack and bring them to justice.” 

On Twitter, UN peacekeeping chief, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, also issued his heartfelt condolences to the family of the fallen soldier noting that he and his colleagues from Egypt were “performing the critical task of protecting convoys”.  

MINUSMA’s mandate from the Security Council began after extremist militias seized control of northern Mali in 2012, which following a failed coup, were repulsed by French military action the following year. A UN-backed peace agreement in 2015 signed between the Government and various armed groups, failed to stabilize the febrile central and northern regions of the northwest African country.   

Earlier this week, according to news reports, the Prime Minister resigned together with his cabinet in the capital Bamako, in the face of widespread criticism from across the political spectrum, over the failure to make inroads against the continuing violence to the north.  

Since 2013 when MINUSMA deployed, more than 190 peacekeepers have died in Mali, including close to 120 killed during hostilities.  

The Secretary-General reaffirmed that the latest casualties “will not diminish the resolve of the United Nations to continue supporting the people and the Government of Mali in their quest for peace and stability.” 

UN condemns attack on Ebola treatment centre in DR Congo which left doctor dead, two others injured

The UN has condemned an attack on an Ebola treatment centre in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Friday, which led to the death of a doctor working for the World Health Organization (WHO), and injured two others. 

© UNICEF/Guy HubbardAn Ebola health care worker examines a one week old infant in an isolation tent at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. 3 December 2018.

Doctor Valery Mouzoko Kiboung was an epidemiologist deployed by WHO in response to the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease that began last August, in the eastern North Kivu area of DRC, which is home to dozens of armed groups. 

UN chief António Guterres called on the Congolese authorities “to spare no effort in identifying and swiftly bringing to justice the perpetrators” of the attack at Butembo Hospital, and extended his deepest condolences to the bereaved family, and a swift recovery to the injured.  

The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, said that “we grieve together” wth Dr. Mouzoko’s family, “during this difficult time”.  

 The Secretary-General expressed his “solidarity with the people and Government” of the DRC, and reiterated “the determination of the United Nations system to continue their work in support of the Congolese authorities to bring the Ebola outbreak to an end.” 

Outrage at attack – WHO chief 

Mr. Tedros said in a statement, that the killing was “a tragic reminder of the risks health workers take every day, to protect the lives and health of others. We are outraged by this attack: health workers and health facilities must never be targets”. 

WHO said that the attack had taken place while a coordination meeting on fighting the Ebola outbreak had been taking place. “We are assessing the security situation to ensure the safety of all patients, health workers, and Ebola responders, said Mr. Tedros. “At the same time, we remain committed to continue supporting the Ministry of Health of DRC, to end this oubreak as quickly as possible”. 

More than 1,200 confirmed and probable cases of Ebola have been recorded since the outbreak began, with more than 760 deaths confirmed.

Violence on the rise in Darfur following Sudan military takeover, but UN-AU peacekeeping mission maintains ‘robust posture’

Security across the volatile Darfur region of Sudan has deteriorated since last week’s military takeover in Khartoum, the UN Security Council heard on Wednesday, but the peacekeeping mission in Darfur has “remained vigilant” in the face of rising violence. 

UNAMIDUNAMID and Humanitarian Country Team providing assistance to mudslide victims in East Jebel Marra, South Darfur.

Jeremiah Mamabolo,  Joint Special Representative for the UN-African Union Hybrid mission, UNAMID, updated members on events since the ousting of former president of 30 years, Omar al-Bashir, with news reports suggesting on Wednesday that he had now been transferred to prison. 

Mr. Mamabolo said that with one General already forced out of office in the face of continuing protests, the daily curfew has now been lifted, and political detainees are due to be released, with a nationwide ceasefire now in place.  

“Yesterday, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General were replaced”, he said, adding that the new military leader, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burnhan, had announced a “military transitional phase” which would last two year at most, before a handover to civilian control. 

But protests are continuing he said, noting that some internally-displaced people, or IDPs in Darfur – where military action by the former president against civilians led to war crimes charges against him by the International Criminal Court a decade ago – had “engaged in violent acts” targeting Government locations, and those seen as collaborators with the former regime. 

“Let me assure the Council that in the midst of all these developments, UNAMID has remained vigilant, maintaining a robust posture, particularly in the Jebel Marra area of responsibility, which is where we have peacekeeping troops”, he added. 

The mission is currently drawing down, but the political landscape “has drastically changed, and has the potential to affect our mandate implementation going forward”, said the top official in Darfur, citing a postponement of a sector headquarters handover that was due to take place on Monday.  

“The incidents of violence in Darfur IDP camps in reaction to the events in Khartoum, attest to the fragility of the security situation in Darfur, which had hitherto been increasingly calm and stable”, excepting Jebel Marra, said Mr. Mamabolo.  

He urged Council members that the international community now “has an opportunity to initiate and sustain dialogue with the new authorities in Sudan. This would help create a conducive environment for UNAMID’s departure, and the international community’s follow-on engagement in Darfur. 

OCHA/Sari OmerA WFP food distribution to Sudanese IDPs near the Murta settlement, Kadugli, in South Kordofan state. (May 2018)

‘Regular operations’ continue for humanitarians in Sudan: UN deputy relief chief 

Although regular operations have not been affected by the political crisis, the UN deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator told Council members that humanitarians across Sudan were “very concerned about the protection of civilians” – particularly in Darfur, where localized fighting is continuing.   

The start of the school year has been delayed she noted, and the country’s burgeoning economic crisis “has had a significant impact” on need-levels nationwide, as one of the main drivers of the initial mass-protests that began in December, against the rule of the former president.  

She noted that rampant inflation, currency devaluation and soaring prices had contributed to rising numbers of those in need, with 5.8 million now food insecure, up from 3.8 million, this time a year ago. This includes 1.9 million in Darfur; a number likely to rise with the onset of the lean season in May. 

In all, around 1.9 million remain displaced by fighting she noted, the vast majority in Darfur. “More support is needed” from the international community, she stressed, and humanitarians are appealing for $1.1 billion to help the most vulnerable. 

Ms. Muller reminded members that Sudan had been a vital conduit for aid into South Sudan, and as host country to around 150,000 refugees from its war-ravaged neighbour. “We continue to call on all parties in Sudan to allow the humanitarian community to assist people in need”, she said. 

“We also call on the Government to take further measures to improve the operating environment for humanitarian organizations, especially the lifting of bureaucratic impediments to movement”.