Don’t put civilian lives in danger, India tells Sri Lanka (Lead)

February 5th, 2009 - 9:17 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 5 (IANS) Voicing “deep concern” over the “difficult situation” in Sri Lanka, India Thursday asked Colombo not to put the lives of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone in danger.While implicitly approving the military offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee pointed out that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had promised that “safe zones” in the island’s north would not be shelled or bombed.

“We have asked them, along with the military exercises against the terrorist organisation LTTE, it should ensure that the life and property of civilians are not put in danger,” Mukherjee told reporters here when asked about the situation in Sri Lanka.

The Indian minister’s comments followed reports that a large number of Tamil civilians had been killed and wounded in shelling of officially designated “safe zones” in Mullaitivu district where people had taken shelter thinking they would be safe.

The Sri Lankan military has also been accused of shelling a hospital in Mullaitivu.

“We are actually in a very difficult situation in this conflict between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE. Therefore (civilians) have to be brought to safe zone,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, who last week visited Colombo to meet Sri Lankan leaders, said President Rajapaksa “has assured us that there will be no shelling in safe zones”.

“We also appeal to the LTTE to allow the civilians to (move to) the safe zone. Their safety and security have to be taken into account,” he said.

“The ultimate solution to the Sri Lankan problem lies in the devolution agreement arising out of the 1987 (India-Sri Lanka) agreement and the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution,” the minister underlined.

The 13th amendment seeks to devolve more powers to provinces in Sri Lanka in a bid to politically empower the minorities, principally the Tamils.

Mukherjee’s comments came as Sri Lanka said it was poised to crush the LTTE in Mullaitivu, where the last of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas have been cornered in an area measuring less than 200 sq km.

Earlier, Home Minister P. Chidambaram voiced “deep concern” over the situation in Sri Lanka and called upon both Colombo and the LTTE to end their hostilities.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting, Chidambaram said both the Sri Lankan government and LTTE “should heed our appeal”.

“The central government is deeply concerned over the situation in Sri Lanka,” said Chidambaram.

He said India was “able to prevail on the Sri Lankan government to pause the (military) operations for 48 hours”. But he pointed out that there was no response from the LTTE.

“The operations have resumed. Even today, there is no response from the LTTE.

“Both sides should heed our appeal. The LTTE must lay down their arms. Similarly, Sri Lanka must suspend the hostilities. Only when both hands come together can you clap.

“All of us are deeply anguished when lives are lost. We will do and will do what is in our capacity to do (to restore peace).”

Asked if LTTE cadres could slip into Tamil Nadu along with Tamil refugees, he replied: “We have sensitised the state government. The LTTE is a banned organisation in India.”

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