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UN, US, Britain urge pause in Sri Lanka fighting

[AFP, Friday, 27 March 2009 08:01 No Comment]

capt.photo_1238117572462-1-0 The United Nations, backed by Britain and the United States, has pressed for a "humanitarian pause" in strife-torn Sri Lanka and blamed Tamil rebels for the plight of trapped civilians.


United Nations humanitarian chief John Holmes told reporters after an informal UN Security Council briefing that his main concern "is the civilian population trapped in the combat area and not being allowed out by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam."


He added that he was pressing for urgent humanitarian access to the combat area in northern Sri Lanka.

"We suggested the idea of some kind of humanitarian pause to allow that to happen and to allow the civilian population to leave," he said. "This is an extremely worrying situation and therefore, our first appeal is to the LTTE to let the civilians out in a safe and orderly fashion."


Rosemary DiCarlo, a senior US delegate to the UN, also voiced her government’s "deep concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka" and slammed the LTTE, which she pointedly recalled is viewed by Washington as a terrorist organization.


"We certainly condemn the fact that they (LTTE) use civilians as human shields … We call on them to lay down their arms, renounce violence and negotiate with the government," she added.


DiCarlo also chided Colombo for continuing to shell areas heavily populated by civilians.


She said Washington had urged Colombo to cease the shelling and had received promises. "But we need to see results," she added, urging the Sri Lankan government to "pay more attention to protecting the civilian population."


Her British counterpart John Sawers also blamed the LTTE for the plight of civilians in the north of the country.


"It is the LTTE which is preventing them from doing so (leaving the combat area)," he said. "We condemn their action in that regard. We call on both parties to respect humanitarian law, cease use of heavy weapons and to everything to protect civilian lives."


Sri Lanka’s UN ambassador H.M.G.S. Palihakkara said his government shared concern about the fate of civilians, and noted that Colombo had declared a 48-hour ceasefire period.


He accused the LTTE of preventing the civilians from leaving.


"If the LTTE is ready to let them go today, my government will agree to a modality, a pause," the envoy said. "The quickest way to end the conflict is for the LTTE to lay down their arms and let these people move."


In Colombo, a government minister meanwhile said the Tamil Tiger rebels had lost more of their territory in northern Sri Lanka and their total defeat was now "imminent."


Government troops have confined LTTE fighters to an area of 21 square kilometers (eight square miles), most of which is a government-declared safe zone, said Keheliya Rambukwella, minister for foreign employment and the government’s defense spokesman.


"Therefore, it is apparent that the LTTE are now at the imminent brink of defeat," he said.

At the height of their power in the mid-1990s, the Tigers controlled more than two-thirds of the Indian Ocean island’s coastline and one third of the total land mass.

[Full Coverage]

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