Civilian casualties ‘unacceptable’, India tells Sri Lanka (Second Lead)

April 17th, 2009 - 7:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) Amid criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to influence Sri Lanka, India Friday made it clear to Colombo that further civilian casualties in the war zone would be “totally unacceptable”.
Taking time off his election campaign, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee also urged Sri Lanka to extend a limited ceasefire to enable the civilians trapped in the conflict zone to move to safe areas.

“Sri Lanka must extend this pause in hostilities to prevent further casualties and enable trapped civilians to leave the area to secure locations,” Mukherjee said in an unusually hard-hitting statement.

“Continuation of precipitate military actions leading to further civilian casualties at this time would be totally unacceptable,” he added.

Mukherjee said that while it was incumbent on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to release all civilians under its control, Colombo “cannot be oblivious to the evolving human tragedy and the fate of the Tamil civilian population caught up in the so-called no fire zone”.

“There is no reason not to continue with the pause in military actions in the no fire zone.

“India is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. The continuing conflict has taken a heavy toll on Tamil civilians and internally displaced persons caught in the crossfire.

“India expects the government of Sri Lanka and others concerned to respond positively to this appeal in the interest of the Tamils who are citizens of Sri Lanka,” Mukherjee said.

The statement was immediately hailed by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the pro-LTTE Sri Lankan Tamil grouping that over the past two days met National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to urge that India needed to act fast.

“We are happy the Indian government has issued the statement,” TNA delegation leader R. Sampanthan told reporters here. He said India should also take “whatever action is necessary to ensure that Sri Lanka complies with the request” made by New Delhi.

In a communication to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the TNA accused the Sri Lankan military of having no regard for the safety of Tamil civilians while fighting the LTTE, now left with only a small strip of land along the coast in Mullaitivu district.

Sampanthan, however, made it clear that his delegation was only concerned with the plight of civilians and that he should not be construed as a LTTE spokesman.

He put the number of civilian deaths in northern Sri Lanka this year at 4,500 and blamed it all on shelling, artillery attacks and air bombings by the military.

Sri Lanka announced a 48-hour temporary ceasefire to mark the Tamil and Sinhala New Year this week to enable civilians to leave the conflict zone. It resumed its offensive against the LTTE Wednesday.

In his statement, Mukherjee also announced India’s decision to send another set of 40,000 family packs — commodities needed by families — to the civilians hit by the conflict in Sri Lanka.

New Delhi has sent medicines, food and other supplies to the civilian population in the conflict zone. A 62-member medical unit from India has treated more than 1,500 serious medical cases among civilians.

Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, their number put at between 80,000 to about 250,000, are trapped in a small land area in Mullaitivu district where the LTTE leaders are believed to have taken refuge. Colombo says the guerrillas are using the civilians as a shield.

India’s statement Friday came a day after Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Kilinochchi, the former hub of the LTTE in the country’s north, and met troops who captured the region at the start of the year.

Mukherjee’s remarks also coincide with street protests amid election campaign in Tamil Nadu where opposition parties have accused New Delhi of ignoring the sufferings of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

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