India asks Sri Lanka to extend truce, halt civilian casualties (Lead)

April 17th, 2009 - 2:54 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) With the humanitarian crisis aggravating in Sri Lanka, India Friday urged Colombo to extend the pause in hostilities to enable civilians trapped in the war zone to move to safe areas and made it clear that any further civilian casualties will be “totally unacceptable”.
“The government of Sri Lanka must extend this pause in hostilities to prevent further casualties and enable trapped civilians to leave the area to secure locations,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a hard-hitting statement here.

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

“While it is incumbent on the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to release all civilians and IDPs under their control, the government of Sri Lanka 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,” he said.

“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,” the minister said.

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.

Mukherjee also announced India’s decision to send another consignment of 40,000 family packs — containing commodities needed by families — to the civilians hit by the conflict in northern 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.

Mukherjee’s statement comes a day after four Tamil MPs from Sri Lanka urged New Delhi to put pressure on Colombo to stop the war in the island nation to protect civilians caught up in the fighting.

The members of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which is sympathetic to the LTTE, conveyed the message to National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan here late Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, their number put at more than 100,000 by some, are caught in a small strip of territory the LTTE still holds in Mullaitivu district.

The area where the civilians are holed up is known as a no-fire zone but reports say the military continues to target it in response to activities of the LTTE.

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