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India Urges Sri Lanka to Heed Ceasefire Call From Tamil Tigers

[Bloomberg, Sunday, 1 March 2009 08:18 No Comment]

Sri Lanka must use a cease-fire call by the Tamil Tigers to stop hostilities and evacuate civilians trapped in conflict zones, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

 

The Indian government views with “grave concern” the humanitarian crisis that is building up every day in Sri Lanka, Mukherjee was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the Ministry of External Affairs Web site. There are about 70,000 civilians inside the conflict zones and there are acute shortages of food, water and medicines, according to the statement.

 

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on Feb. 23 responded to international urgings led by the United Nations for a cease- fire, saying they were ready though rejecting demands they lay down arms and surrender. Sri Lanka said the rebels reneged on previous agreements and refused to accept a cease-fire.

India made an appeal on Feb. 24 that international agencies be allowed to monitor the movement of civilians in war zones and told both sides to respect the sanctity of the “safe zones.” India has stayed away from the conflict after it was drawn into a battle with the LTTE when it sent a peacekeeping force to the island nation in 1987. The force was withdrawn three years later.

 

While the cease-fire may fall short of a declaration by the LTTE to lay down arms, the Sri Lankan government must still cease hostilities, according to the statement. India appealed to Sri Lanka to immediately work out safe passage to secure locations for civilians.

 

‘Assurances of Equality’

 

“The government of India is making arrangements to send an emergency medical unit and medicines,” for civilians displaced by the conflict, according to the statement. Sri Lanka needs to effectively devolve powers to the north and eastern provinces “with assurances of equality and equal rights to all citizens, particularly the Tamil people,” within the constitutional framework of Sri Lanka.

 

India’s southern Tamil Nadu is home to more than 62 million people and has about 73,000 Sri Lankan refugees, according to the UN. The ruling party, an ally of the federal coalition, in January threatened to pull out from the government unless Sri Lanka stopped its military offensive.

 

The Tamil Tigers are confined to 87 square kilometers (34 square miles) of land in the northeast after the army captured their main bases in January, the Sri Lankan military said.

 

Caught in Middle

 

The LTTE on Feb. 24 accused Sri Lankan artillery of firing at civilians in “safe zones” and said at least 10 civilians were killed in the attack and 25 others were injured. Sri Lanka’s government says the LTTE is holding about 70,000 people against their will in the north. The LTTE say people remain in the rebel-held territory of their own free will and don’t want to be placed in government-run transit camps.

 

John Holmes, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs of the UN, on Feb. 27 voiced concern for the civilians and said many of them were uprooted several times in recent months and are in danger of getting caught in the crossfire between the two sides.

 

“The risks from hunger and diseases are growing rapidly, in addition from fighting,” Holmes told the 15-member Security Council, according to a statement on the UN Web site. The UN estimates about 200,000 people are being squeezed into a 14 square kilometer area of coastal land in northern Wanni, which the government has declared a “no-fire zone.”

 

The violence has obstructed delivery of humanitarian aid and supplies of food, medicines and clean water are in “critically short supply,” Holmes said.

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