British, French foreign ministers arrive in Colombo (Lead)

April 29th, 2009 - 1:04 pm ICT by IANS  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, April 29 (IANS) British and French foreign ministers arrived in Sri Lanka Wednesday on a day-long trip to discuss with Colombo the humanitarian situation in the island’s north where troops are battling the Tamil Tigers who have been cornered into a small strip of coastal land.

British Foreign Minister David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner met their Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama at the ministry complex Wednesday morning to discuss the unfolding situation in the country’s north.

They are scheduled to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa late Wednesday after visiting the northern town of Vavuniya where thousands of war-displaced people are living in camps and welfare centres.

Carrying out a fight-to-finish campaign, the military has cornered the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) into a small coastal land strip less than 10 sq km.

The military last week launched what it called “the largest rescue operation in the world” which resulted in the exodus of over 100,000 people from the LTTE-held no-fire-zone to the government-controlled areas.

Amid mounting international concern for the safety of thousands of civilians still trapped in the fast shrinking no-fire-zone, the government Monday ordered its troops “to stop using heavy guns, aerial weapons and combat aircraft” in its future operations in the north to ensure the safety of civilians.

The government said this decision was not a reaction to any “international pressure” but an exhibit “of its grave concern to avoid any form of collateral damage while surging into the remaining 10 sq km swathe of coast, south of Valayarmadam and Vellamullivaikkal” in the north-eastern Mullaitivu district, about 395 km from the capital.

“Security forces are now reaching victory, combat mission reaching its conclusion and in no form will leave a breather for the internationally banned terrorist outfit or its leaders who are much wanted for thousands of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the government said, virtually dismissing calls for a ceasefire.

The visit by the two foreign ministers have also triggered a diplomatic row with the Swedish government saying that its foreign minister, Carl Bildt, was denied a visa to travel to Colombo along with the British and French foreign ministers.

Sri Lanka Wednesday rejected reports of denying entry to the Swedish foreign minister, but said he can come in early May.

“This allegation is baseless, as there was no formal application received for a visa by the Sri Lankan Embassy in Stockholm. At no instance did the Sri Lanka government deny entry to Minister Bildt,” the foreign ministry said here in a statement.

“In fact, an invitation had been extended by Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama to his Swedish counterpart to visit Sri Lanka in early May.

“The government of 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 United Nations context,” the foreign ministry statement said.

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