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Sri Lankan Tamil Party Calls for Cease-Fire in North

[Bloomberg, Friday, 27 March 2009 07:59 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s main Tamil political party called on the government to declare a cease-fire to protect civilians in the north, as the army said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is facing “imminent” defeat.

 

“The Sri Lankan military must stop the offensive,” Mavai Senathirajah, a lawmaker from the Tamil National Alliance, said yesterday. “Humanitarian workers must be allowed in.”

 

The army’s drive against the LTTE has “confined” the last rebel units to a 21-square-kilometer (8-square-mile) area in the northeast, said Keheliya Rambukwella, the government’s defense spokesman.

 

The United Nations is leading calls for the government and LTTE to stop fighting to allow aid to reach between 150,000 and 190,000 civilians caught in the conflict zone. The government accuses the Tamil Tigers of preventing people from leaving while the LTTE says Tamils are facing “genocidal warfare” through artillery shelling and air attacks.

 

Thousands of civilians are sheltering in a 14-square- kilometer area near the northeastern port of Mullaitivu that has been declared a no-fire zone by the government, said John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

 

He was speaking in New York late yesterday after briefing the Security Council on the Sri Lanka conflict.

First Appeal

 

“Our first appeal is to the LTTE to let the civilians out in safe and orderly fashion,” Holmes said, according to the UN. He called on the government to avoid using heavy weapons in the area and to prevent civilian casualties and said both sides should declare a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting.

 

“The government must listen to the calls by the international community,” Senathirajah, who represents the TNA in the northern Jaffna district, said in a phone interview from the capital, Colombo.

 

The TNA, which holds 22 seats in the 225-member parliament, rejected an invitation by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to join an all-party discussion on a political settlement to the issue of Tamil separatism. The political climate isn’t conducive to holding such discussions, Senathirajah said.

 

“We call for a cease-fire, loudly and clearly,” B. Nadesan, the head of the LTTE’s political wing, said in an interview with the U.K.’s Sunday Times last weekend. “Non-stop artillery and aerial attacks are creating an unbearable situation.”

 

Army Shelling

 

The U.S. has called on Sri Lanka’s government to stop army shelling of areas where civilians are gathered, the Associated Press cited Rosemary DiCarlo, the alternate representative to the UN for special political affairs, as saying in New York.

 

“We’ve had promises, but we need to see results,” she said late yesterday. “The government of Sri Lanka must pay more attention to civilians in this conflict.”

 

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama yesterday issued a statement saying security forces aren’t directing any attacks on the no-fire zone, Sri Lanka’s UN mission in New York said.

 

The government is providing aid by land and sea for displaced people and the military is making every effort to avoid civilian casualties, Rajapaksa told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a telephone conversation last week.

 

More than 55,000 people have fled into government- controlled areas in the north since January, the government said yesterday. Conditions in transit camps must meet international standards, Holmes said.

The Tamil Tigers say people are staying in LTTE-held territory of their own free will because they don’t want to be placed in government-run internment camps.

 

Death Toll

 

The UN said earlier this month as many as 2,800 people may have been killed and 7,000 injured since January, describing the casualties as “truly shocking.”

 

Sri Lanka’s government said the UN is using figures that can’t be verified, according to a statement on its Web site.

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