Britain, France say LTTE using civilians as human shieldsApril 16th, 2009 - 7:57 pm ICT by IANS
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, April 16 (IANS) Britain and France have accused Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka of using civilians as human shields and preventing them from leaving the conflict zone.
In a joint statement issued in London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner urged the Sri Lankan government to declare a new ceasefire to allow aid in and civilians out.
Sri Lankan security forces resumed their offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after a 48-hour ceasefire ended Wednesday.
Although Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama this week rejected a previous call by Miliband to extend the ceasefire, the two European ministers in their statement said the ceasefire had not been long enough for civilians to have moved to safety.
“We are deeply concerned that there was no largescale movement of civilians away from the conflict area to safety as we had hoped to see, in the short period allowed for the pause,” they said Wednesday.
“It is clear that the LTTE have been forcefully preventing civilians from leaving the conflict area and we deplore their determination to use civilians as a human shield.
“We urge President (Mahinda) Rajapaksa to announce a new pause. Democratic governments are rightly held to higher standards for civilian protection than terrorist organisations.”
The statement added: “It is vital that a pause in the fighting should be long enough to give civilians the opportunity to leave the conflict area, and for the UN to build confidence among the population that they will be safe if they leave.”
The statement comes amid mounting pressure on the governments of Britain and France - two countries with large Sri Lankan Tamil populations - to take diplomatic action against Colombo and follows the exit of Norway as a decade-old peace broker.
Upto 200,000 Tamils marched through London Saturday to demand an immediate end to the Sri Lankan army action - an issue that has also been raised by several MPs in the British parliament.
In their statement, Miliband and Kouchner urged both sides to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and to do everything they could to protect civilians, including allowing “unimpeded access” to humanitarian agencies.
“France and Britain, as two members of the Security Council, continue to support the active engagement by the UN and by other members of the international community on this urgent issue,” they said.
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