Rajapaksa asks LTTE to free civilians in 48 hours

January 30th, 2009 - 12:37 am ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 29 (IANS) Amid growing concern over the safety of thousands of civilians trapped in Sri Lanka’s northern war zone, President Mahinda Rajapaksa late Thursday evening “urged” the Tamil Tigers to allow within the next 48 hours “the free movement of civilians to ensure their safety and security”.According to the government information department, President Rajapaksa in a statement said that as a result of the ongoing military operations “the LTTE control over civilians is now confined to a small area in the northern province and a large number of civilians are being held there forcibly by the LTTE, thus endangering innocent civilian lives”.

“I urge the LTTE, within the next 48 hours to allow free movement of civilians to ensure their safety and security. For all those civilians, I assure a safe passage to a secure environment,” Rajapaksa said in the statement.

He has also assured all those living in the north, and in conflict areas in particular, that “vacating LTTE-held areas will ensure their physical security and enable peace, freedom and rights for all citizens of this country”.

Claiming that his government has already “declared a safe zone for civilians” in the war-zone for the civilians to ensure their safety and security, the president has charged the LTTE with using this safe zone to fire long-range guns to attack the advancing troops.

“It is unfortunate that the LTTE is exploiting this declared safe zone for civilians by placing their heavy artillery within the safe zone and using it as a launching pad to attack security forces and indiscriminately kill civilians,” the statement said.

The president’s statement has come barely a few hours after the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it has escorted at least 226 sick and wounded patients requiring urgent medical treatment from the LTTE-held areas in Mullaitivu to the Vavuniya hospital in the government controlled area.

It said that the patients accompanied by family members travelled in three ambulances and four buses, crossing the forward lines of defence of both the government troops and the Tamil Tiger guerillas.

“The convoy was escorted by the ICRC over a stretch of four kilometres between the LTTE and the government controlled areas,” the ICRC Colombo office said Thursday. It stressed that it was essential that these convoys “continue to take place to help patients access vital medical treatment and humanitarian aid to be able to reach civilians in the Wanni”.

“Today shows that it is possible to care for people protected under international humanitarian law. It means hope for the future of other people in need,” Paul Castella, the head of delegation of the ICRC in Colombo, said in a statement Thursday.

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