Sri Lanka ends ‘combat operations’ against Tamil Tigers (Second Lead)

April 27th, 2009 - 5:01 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram Colombo, April 27 (IANS) Amid mounting global concern over civilian suffering, Sri Lanka Monday announced that it was ending combat operations against the Tamil Tigers in a bid to end the deaths of non-combatants.
The government ordered its security forces to stop using “heavy guns, aerial weapons and combat aircraft” that have allegedly caused thousands of deaths.

It said the military would instead start rescuing civilians from a small coastal area still held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“The government has decided that combat operations have reached their conclusion. Our security forces have been instructed to end the use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties,” the presidential secretariat said.

“Our security forces will confine their attempts to rescuing civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving civilians,” it said.

The decision came amid the visit of UN humanitarian chief John Holmes who is here to assess the needs of the tens of thousands of civilians who fled rebel-held areas or are still trapped in the war zone.

It also came a day after the LTTE announced a unilateral ceasefire, which was promptly rejected by the government as a “joke”.

The death and destruction in the island’s north have caused widespread revulsion but Colombo appeared determined to pursue its military offensive until it crushed the LTTE.

Amid escalating street protests in Tamil Nadu, India had Friday sent two envoys, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, to urge Sri Lanka to end offensive operations.

As fresh fighting broke out Monday in Mullaitivu district, where the LTTE now holds less than 10 sq km area, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi got into the act by suddenly launching a hunger strike on the beachfront in Chennai to demand a ceasefire in Sri Lanka.

While thousands of supporters gathered and sporadic violence erupted across Tamil Nadu, the National Security Council of Sri Lanka met in Colombo and announced it was ending its “combat operations”, a move that was promptly conveyed to India.

Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram, a Tamil himself, then telephoned Karunanidhi and conveyed the decision. The chief minister ended his hunger strike.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown Monday meanwhile dispatched his International Development Minister Mike Foster to Sri Lanka “to conduct a humanitarian assessment” of the situation.

According to latest statistics, over 3,000 people fled the war zone and entered the government-controlled areas Sunday, taking the total number of civilian escapees to 111,512 in one week.

The Unicef said 50 tonnes of airlifted emergency relief supplies landed in Colombo Monday, to be distributed to the Tamil civilians now in makeshift camps in Sri Lanka’s north.

Many thousands are in hospital after suffering grievous wounds in artillery shelling, aerial attacks and landmine explosions, blamed both on the military and the LTTE.

“Sri Lanka is facing a humanitarian crisis that requires a rapid response. We estimate that there are approximately a quarter of a million people who need help and they need it quickly,” Unicef’s Philippe Duamelle said.

The LTTE has been fighting in the north and eastern parts of Sri Lanka for an independent homeland for Tamils for a quarter century.

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