Grab LTTE ceasefire offer to rescue civilians, India tells Sri Lanka

February 28th, 2009 - 7:23 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 28 (IANS) Amid mounting concern over the plight of 70,000 civilians trapped in the conflict zone, India Friday made a renewed appeal to Sri Lanka to seize the Tamil Tigers rebels’ ceasefire offer and spur safe passage for Tamil civilians where they can get humanitarian aid.
“While this (ceasefire offer by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - LTTE) may fall short of a declaration of willingness to lay down arms, it is our view that the government of Sri Lanka should seize the opportunity presented by the offer to bring about a pause in the hostilities,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

“The government of India would, therefore, appeal to the government of Sri Lanka to immediately work out safe passage for trapped civilians to secure locations,” Mukherjee said. “This would require the cooperation of the LTTE,” he underlined reading out from a statement.

Early this week, Colombo rejected calls for a truce with Tamil Tiger rebels, demanding first an unconditional surrender by the LTTE guerrillas.

International organisations, including the UN, have made repeated appeals for the cessation of hostilities in Sri Lanka. Colombo, however, sees the LTTE’s ceasefire call as a desperate plea “to save their miserable skins.”

The Sri Lankan government believes the battle against terrorism has entered its last lap with the Tamil Tiger rebels losing most of their strongholds to government forces.

“Though pressure is exerted in various ways by the international community, the government will not stop the war on the Tigers until they are defeated,” Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said Friday.

The hardline stand has only added to the miseries of thousands of civilians trapped in northern Sri Lanka. With the suffering of civilians on mind, Mukherjee underscored India’s “grave concern over the humanitarian crisis that is building up with every passing day in Sri Lanka.”

“There are reports that over 70,000 civilians are trapped in the conflict zone in Sri Lanka and there is acute shortage of food, water and medicines,” he said.

“The pause in hostilities must be utilized to facilitate the movement of Tamil population out of the war-affected areas to secure locations where proper rehabilitation is possible,” he said.

These safe locations will ensure, he stressed, that international aid organisations like the International Council of Red Cross (ICRC) have free access to provide medical and other forms of humanitarian aid.

India Thursday announced it would send an emergency medical unit to provide medical assistance to internally displaced people in northern Sri Lanka.

Such relief to civilians, the minister stressed, must be followed up by “a proper devolution of powers to the provinces, with assurances of equality and equal rights to all citizens, particularly the Tamil people, within the constitutional framework of Sri Lanka maintaining its territorial integrity.”

“I sincerely hope that the government of Sri Lanka and all others will respond to this sincere appeal that is made in the interest of all sections of the people in Sri Lanka,” Mukherjee said.

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