Britain, France discuss Sri Lanka war, protest in Colombo (Third Lead) (With images)

April 29th, 2009 - 5:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown Colombo, April 29 (IANS) Britain and France Wednesday expressed “deep concern” over the plight of civilians caught in Sri Lanka’s war, sparking noisy protests outside the British high commission here by Buddhist monks who asked foreign governments to lay off.
Foreign Ministers David Miliband of Britain and Bernard Kouchner of France held talks with their Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama about Tamil civilians killed and displaced in the continuing fighting between the military and the Tamil Tigers.

Miliband and Kouchner are to call on President Mahinda Rajapaksa after visiting Vavuniya, a town 254 km away in the north where many thousands of displaced Tamils are housed in camps and welfare centres.

The visit of the British and French foreign ministers has assumed significance after Sri Lanka reportedly refused visa to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who too was to come. Colombo denied this.

Details of the discussions the visitors had with Bogollagama were not immediately known, but diplomatic sources said they expressed their “deep concern over the unfolding situation in the north”, where over 100,000 Tamils have fled the war zone even as thousands remain trapped in a small coastal strip still held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Amid speculation that some countries were insisting on a ceasefire against the LTTE, anger mounted on the streets where support for the war is high.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people, Buddhist monks included, staged a noisy rally outside the British high commission. The protestors were from the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a party allied to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Many carried anti-Britain placards as they squatted near the entrance of the British mission, shouting slogans against “international interference in an internal problem”.

“Our president who did not bow down to LTTE terrorism, will not bow down to international pressure,” read one banner. Another said: “We did to the LTTE what you could not do to the Al Qaeda.”

A third asked: “Gordon Brown, will you give a humanitarian lifeline to Osama bin Laden?”

Even as diplomatic efforts were on to halt the war, with Colombo saying it is about to crush the LTTE and end one of the world’s longest running separatist campaigns, the Sri Lankan navy battled a fleet of LTTE boats in the northeastern seas.

Navy sources said at least five rebel boats, including four explosive-laden suicide boats, were destroyed and over 25 ‘Sea Tigers’ killed during the clash off Mullaitivu, about 395 km from Colombo.

Mullaitivu is where LTTE’s elusive chief Velupillai Prabhakaran is said to be holed up along with his top aides including son Charles Antony and intelligence chief Pottu Amman.

There has been no immediate reaction from the rebels to the claims about destruction of their boats.

The military says the LTTE is now squeezed in a sandy area less than 10 sq km.

The military last week launched what it called “the largest rescue operation in the world”, leading to the mass exodus of virtually starving Tamils in thousands from the LTTE zone.

Amid mounting international concern, the government Monday ordered its troops to stop using heavy guns, aerial weapons and combat aircraft in its future operations to ensure the safety of civilians.

Sri Lanka Wednesday denied blocking entry to Sweden’s Bildt saying he could come in May.

“In fact, an invitation had been extended by Bogollagama… Sri Lanka envisages the visits of the French and the British foreign ministers purely on a bilateral basis and not in terms of their membership in a regional or UN context,” the foreign ministry said.

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