Sri Lanka ready to accept India’s offer to evacuate civilians: Envoy

February 19th, 2009 - 7:06 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 19 (IANS) A day after New Delhi asked the Tamil Tigers to lay down arms, Sri Lanka Thursday conveyed its willingness to accept India’s assistance in evacuating civilians caught in the conflict in the island nation.

“The plight of the civilians is of foremost concern to the Sri Lankan government as well. It is a sentiment we share with India,” Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to India C.R. Jayasinghe told IANS here.

“India has formally indicated its interest in evacuating civilians. We are open to accepting logistical help from friendly countries like India,” the envoy said.

Colombo, however, underlined that such a decision will depend on the realities on the ground.

“The details of such an evacuation plan can be worked out later. It will be contingent on the situation on the ground. The LTTE is creating obstruction in the government’s plan to move civilians to safety,” the envoy stressed.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all civilians,” he said.

The envoy welcomed External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s statement in parliament Wednesday on the situation in Sri Lanka in which he had asked LTTE to lay down arms and offered India’s assistance to Sri Lanka in evacuating civilians trapped in the military conflict.

“It’s a constructive statement. It reflects very accurately ground realities. It’s a forward-looking statement that shows the path ahead for peace and reconciliation,” he said.

In one of the most scathing statements ever against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Mukherjee recalled that it was an outlawed group in India and accused the Tigers of having “done much damage to the Tamil community”.

“As the conflict enters what may be the final phase of military operations, the LTTE would best serve the interest of the Tamils by immediately releasing all civilians (in its zone) and laying down arms,” he said.

“India is ready to facilitate the evacuation of civilians trapped in the area of conflict, working with the government of Sri Lanka and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) who would take responsibility for the security, screening and rehabilitation of these internally displaced persons,” Mukherjee said.

Thousands of Tamil civilians have been trapped in a small area in Mullaitivu district where the military has ringed the LTTE guerrillas.

International rights groups have accused the military of shelling them and the LTTE of preventing them from leaving the area. Both have denied the allegations.

Mukherjee also stressed that even while India wants the conflict to end in Sri Lanka, it cannot direct “a foreign nation” on how to conduct its affairs.

Mukherjee’s remarks on Sri Lanka, however, came in for pointed criticism from MDMK and PMK MPs from Tamil Nadu who accused the Indian government of speaking “in the language of the Sri Lankan government” and selling arms and ammunition to Colombo to kill innocent civilians.

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