No ceasefire with Tamil Tigers, says Sri Lanka

January 30th, 2009 - 11:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 30 (IANS) Reiterating its call to the Tamil Tigers to release immediately thousands of innocent civilians trapped in the island’s northern war zone, Sri Lanka Friday made it clear that it would not declare a ceasefire, a top minister here said. “No one spoke about a ceasefire and there is no ceasefire at present,” Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management Mahinda Samarasinghe said Friday.

“As the president of this country, Mahinda Rajapaksa has urged the LTTE to release innocent civilians it was holding hostage in the Mullaitivu district within the next 48 hours,” Samarasinghe told reporters here.

Asked what would be the position if the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) refused to heed the government’s call to release civilians within the allotted 48 hours, Minister Samarasinghe said the government would “continue with our military operations and we will continue to liberate areas which had not been liberated so far”.

“We will completely eradicate terrorism. We will free our citizens,” he said, adding that the government was preparing a “comprehensive post-conflict strategy” to give relief to these war-hit civilians.

The government response came as European Union Humanitarian Aid commissioner Louis Michel called for a ceasefire between Sri Lankan forces and Tamil rebels to allow trapped civilians to flee the combat zone.

“This is an escalating humanitarian catastrophe. We are extremely worried about the terrible situation facing people trapped in the fighting” in the combat zone in the northeast of the island, Michel said in a statement.

“Everything must be done to prevent the suffering of the population and stop further bloodshed and I, therefore, urge that a window of cessation of hostilities be agreed by the parties to allow civilians to leave the combat zone,” he urged in a statement issued in Brussels.

Amid growing concern over the safety of thousands of civilians trapped in Sri Lanka’s northern war-zone, President Mahinda Rajapaksa late Thursday ‘urged’ the Tamil Tiger rebels to allow within the next 48 hours “the free movement of civilians to ensure their safety and security”.

In a statement Thursday night, the president said that as a result of the ongoing military operations, “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,” he said.

Rajapaksa 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”.

There was no reaction from the rebel outfit, which has been fighting to carve out a separate state over the past quarter century.

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