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EU pushes for truce in Sri Lanka

[Al Jazeera, Wednesday, 29 April 2009 09:53 No Comment]

The foreign ministers of France and Britain have urged the Sri Lankan government to call a truce in the war with Tamil Tiger separatists to allow tens of thousands of civilians to escape.


The call by Bernard Kouchner and David Milliband on Wednesday came amid growing fears for the welfare of civilians caught in the fighting in a 10 sq km strip of coastline.

Miliband said: "The LTTE must end preventing civilians leaving the conflict zone and the fighting must stop.


"Protection of civilians is absolutely paramount at this moment."


"No one in the international community has been calling for a ceasefire or to stop firing to save [Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai] Prabhakaran.


"The calls have come because of the overwhelming concern with the wellbeing of the civilians," he said.


Asked about the government response to their ceasefire calls, Kouchner said: "We insisted and we insisted, but it is up to our friends to allow it or not."


Continuing attacks

Although Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan president, pledged two days earlier that air strikes and attacks using heavy-calibre weapons would stop, ground attacks have continued.


Tamil Tigers accused the military of killing at least 11 people in the war zone on Tuesday, which the government denied.


David Chater, Al Jazeera’s correspondent, said: "The ministers are here much on the same mission as John Holmes, the UN’s top humanitarian official.


"They are asking for a humanitarian pause so that aid agencies and supplies can get through to some 50,000 civilians who are believed to be trapped in appalling conditions inside the combat zone.


"But I think they will get exactly the same answer the UN did – that there will be no pause, that this rescue hostage mission will continue but as the Sri Lankan government always say -  it is their war and they will continue to fight it."


Holmes left the island earlier this week having failed to secure greater humanitarian access.


Tense atmosphere

The two foreign ministers are set to travel to Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the north which have become overrun in recent days by more than 100,000 war refugees


After months of heavy fighting the military claims Tamil Tigers are believed to be down to their last few hundred fighters, now confined to the tiny strip of coastal jungle in the northeast.


According to the UN as many as 6,500 civilians may have been killed and another 14,000 wounded in the government’s offensive against the Tamils so far this year.


The government has blocked most aid agencies from working in the north, and has put civilians who are escaping the fighting into camps guarded by the military.


Aid workers who have visited the camps have testified to food shortages, lack of sanitation, a desperate medical situation and chronic overcrowding.


The UN estimates a further 50,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone.

[Full Coverage]

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