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Sri Lanka has chance to end Tamil conflict: US

[AFP, Thursday, 16 April 2009 19:32 No Comment]

The United States on Thursday urged an immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka to save thousands of trapped civilians, saying the Colombo government had a chance to finally end three decades of war.


"We call upon the government and military of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers to immediately stop hostilities until the more than 140,000 civilians in the conflict are safely out," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.


"The Sri Lankan government, as legitimate sovereign power, has before it an opportunity to put an end to this lengthy conflict," Wood told reporters.


But he said a lasting peace would only come "through a political solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankan communities."


Sri Lanka said Thursday it had made fresh advances into an area still held by the Tiger rebels, who launched a campaign in 1972 to create a separate homeland on the island for the Tamil minority.

Civilians — estimated at more than 140,000 by the United States and more than 100,000 by the United Nations — are holed up in the narrow strip on the northeastern coast initially designated a safe zone.

Arguing the civilians were being used by the rebels as a human shield, Sri Lanka’s defense ministry said it was engaged in "the world’s largest hostage rescue operation undertaken by a conventional armed force in modern times."


The pro-rebel website Tamilnet said ground troops backed by helicopter gunships were "deploying maximum firepower" in an attempt to breach rebel defenses.


"Further killing, particularly killing of civilians, will not end the conflict and will stain any eventual peace," Wood said.


He called on Sri Lanka to use diplomacy "to permit a peaceful outcome of this conflict."


"We call on the Sri Lankan government to put forward a proposal now to engage Tamils who do not espouse violence or terrorism and to develop power-sharing arrangements so that lasting peace and reconciliation can be achieved," he said.


The United States considers the Tamil Tigers, known for their trademark suicide bombings, to be a terrorist organization.


While the statement called for a ceasefire by both the government and the rebels, a senior US official said on condition of anonymity that Washington was unhappy with the Colombo government.


"We are not pleased (with Colombo) and I think the statement reflects that," the official said, one week after Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona held talks in Washington.


The foreign ministers of Britain and France also issued a joint statement on Wednesday urging Sri Lanka to call a new ceasefire and the rebels to stop using civilians as human shields.


Among "everyone who has been working to resolve this conflict, their patience is running thin," the senior US official said.


The official said the United States hoped that Sri Lanka took action quickly due to the large number of civilians at risk.


"It is a tragic situation," he said.

[Full Coverage]

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