India urges Lanka to evacuate civilians, offers help (Lead)

February 24th, 2009 - 8:55 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 24 (IANS) India Tuesday urged Sri Lanka to work out “appropriate and credible procedures” to evacuate civilians from the war zone through land and sea routes and said it was ready to provide medical help to the wounded.
“We have requested the Sri Lankan government to facilitate the evacuation of civilians to safe zones through sea and land routes in the presence of international observers,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha.

“We have been monitoring the situation closely,” he said while referring to media reports about the LTTE declaring its willingness to discuss international appeals to permit internally displaced persons (IDPs) caught in the zone of conflict to leave the area for safety.

“The sanctity of the safe zones must be respected by both sides,” the minister stressed.

In a statement, the external affairs ministry also said that it was willing to help transport the civilians, thousands of who remain trapped in a small chunk of territory still held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Indian statement came a day after the cornered LTTE appealed for a ceasefire Monday, a plea Colombo promptly turned down.

“In this context, India appeals to the Sri Lankan government and to all concerned to work out appropriate and credible procedures for the evacuation of IDPs to safety, which would include the international agencies being able to oversee the movement of the IDPs,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said in a statement.

Alluding to small numbers of civilian wounded who have been pulled out of the conflict zone by sea, New Delhi appealed to all concerned “to make it possible for much larger numbers to be brought out both over land and by sea.

“India is ready to provide all necessary help to facilitate the process of bringing innocent civilians to safety and to meet their humanitarian needs for relief materials, medicines and medical care,” the spokesman said.

“India is working out modalities with the government of Sri Lanka to arrange for early dispatch of medical help and medicine to reach sick and injured civilians.”

The issue of civilian safety is likely to dominate the discussions between India and Sri Lanka when Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon goes to Colombo next week for the SAARC ministerial conference.

Mukherjee was to go for the 31st meeting of the SAARC council of ministers but is unable to do so due to his expanded domestic responsibilities, official sources said.

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