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Colombo vows to ‘rescue’ civilians

[Al Jazeera, Friday, 15 May 2009 07:50 No Comment]

The army said on Friday up to 4,000 civilians fled the war zone in Sri Lanka's northeast overnight [Reuters] The Sri Lankan government has vowed to launch a final offensive against the Tamil Tigers, while thousands of civilians continue to flee the conflict zone in the island’s northeast.

 

Anusha Palpita, a Sri Lankan government spokesman, said all civilians trapped in the war zone will be rescued within two days.

 

"The president [Mahinda Rajapakse] assured that within the next 48 hours the thousands of Tamil civilians will be freed from the clutches of the Tamil Tigers," Palpita said on Friday.

 

"All territory will be freed from Tiger control."

 

The statement came as UN officials in New York said Vijay Nambiar, the chief of staff of the secretary-general, was travelling to Sri Lanka on Friday "to help resolve the humanitarian situation".

 

Prior peace missions by senior diplomats have ended in failure, and on Thursday the Sri Lanka government vowed it would not cave in to pressure to halt the war.

 

Humanitarian catastrophe

The developments came as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is the only aid organisation allowed to work in the conflict zone, said a boat attempting to evacuate wounded and carrying food aid had been unable to reach the area because of fierce fighting.

 

"Our staff are witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe," Pierre Krahenbuhl, the ICRC’sdirector of operations, said.

 

"No humanitarian organisation can help them in the current circumstances. People are left to their own devices."

 

An army spokesman said on Friday that 4,000 civilians fled the conflict zone overnight.

 

The government says people have been fleeing under fire from the Tamil Tigers, wading across a lagoon into government-controlled territory.

 

It is impossible to independently confirm claims from the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) because journalists are banned from the conflict area and access for aid organisations is strictly limited.

 

The government says civilians are being used as human shields by the LTTE and need to be rescued, while the group says the army has been shelling the area, causing civilian casualties.

[Full Coverage]

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