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EU diplomats may visit war-torn north: Sri Lanka

[AFP, Wednesday, 18 March 2009 12:47 No Comment]

Sri Lanka said Wednesday it would open up its war-torn north to international scrutiny, days after the UN said it suspected war crimes were being committed in the fight against Tamil rebels.


A foreign ministry official said talks were under way to give a European Union fact-finding mission access to the area, which has been almost totally off-limits to diplomats, aid workers and journalists.


"We are in the process of finalising the dates and the agenda," Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona told AFP.


Another senior foreign ministry official said the team may be allowed to visit camps that the Sri Lankan government has set up for civilians displaced by its massive offensive against the Tamil Tigers.


"The EU delegation could visit the camps for internally displaced and see for themselves the conditions there," the official said.


But it was not clear if diplomats would be allowed close to frontline areas. A visit by EU parliamentarians in July last year ended in acrimony with the Sri Lankan government accused of not giving full or free access.


The EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she hoped another mission from member nations and the European Commission would be able to visit Sri Lanka soon for an assessment.


"The situation there is really very, very dangerous," she told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday.


"Approximately 170,000 people, it seems civilian people, are being trapped in the north part of Sri Lanka and neither the Sri Lankan government nor the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) have until now accepted our appeal for an immediate ceasefire," she said.


Sri Lanka disputes the EU figures and says fewer than 70,000 people are trapped in the war zone. It maintains that the military is about to completely crush the Tamil Tigers, who have been confined to a narrow strip of coastline.


Last week the United Nations’ human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said she feared both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers could be guilty of war crimes.

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