Britain, France fail to halt Sri Lankan war against LTTE (Fourth lead)(With images)

April 29th, 2009 - 6:38 pm ICT by IANS  

Gordon Brown Colombo, April 29 (IANS) Visiting foreign ministers of Britain and France Wednesday said they failed to get Sri Lanka to halt its military campaign in the island’s north where thousands of civilians are trapped in the fast shrinking war zone.
“We tried very hard. We insisted and insisted but it is up to our friends to allow it or not,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters after holding talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama here Wednesday.

Indicating that the talks have ended in failure, British Foreign Minister David Miliband said: “The international community has been asking for a ceasefire not to save (rebel leader Vellupillai) Prabhakaran, but a call to allow civilians to leave, for long term peace in Sri Lanka.”

“Now is the time for the fighting to stop. Sri Lanka’s military advances have been spectacular, but winning the peace is as vital as winning the war,” Miliband said.

The ministers, who arrived in Colombo Wednesday on a one-day trip, also called on the Tigers to free the thousands of civilians whose numbers vary between 20,000 to 50,000, instead of holding them hostage.

“They are hostages of the LTTE and we want them freed immediately,” Kouchner appealed to the rebels.

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, saying Bildt is invited to visit the island nation early May.

Sri Lankan troops have virtually cornered the LTTE into a small strip of coastal land less than 10 sq km.

The ruling coalition of President Rajapaksa have argued that agreeing to a truce will only give the Tamil Tigers breathing space and allow them to regroup.

The diplomatic efforts by foreign ministers of Britain and France triggered noisy protests outside the British high commission here by Buddhist monks who asked foreign governments to lay off.

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 Rajapaksa’s ruling coalition.

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 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (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.

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