Sri Lanka army launches airstrikes: Tamil rebels (Lead)

April 28th, 2009 - 5:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, April 28 (DPA) Tamil rebels Tuesday accused Sri Lankan troops of breaking assurances the army would refrain from using heavy weaponry while an estimated 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the last area held by the rebels.
Both the military and Tamil rebels confirmed that fighting was continuing around the Mullaivikkal area, 390 km north of Colombo, in a narrow coastal strip of about 6 sq km in the Mullaitivu district.

The government estimated that 20,000 civilians were trapped in the area, but the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at least 50,000 people remain in the conflict zone.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels Tuesday accused the Sri Lanka air force and army of continued use of heavy weapons including airstrikes, despite government assurances that the military would not be using combat aircraft or artillery.

The pro-rebel TamilNet website said the army Monday night fired cannon shells and used multi-barrel rocket fire, a claim denied by the army, which said the halt of combat operations should not be “misinterpreted” as a ceasefire.

“It is a decision that signals the nearing victory of one of the world’s most successful battles against terrorism. It is a decision that displays the genuine will of the Sri Lankan government to rescue its citizens from terrorism,” the defence ministry said.

Troops in a predawn move captured two of the fortified earth bunds put up by the rebels in a location called Valayanmadam, a military spokesman said.

He said troops advanced and gained control over a 600-metre earth bund running across the coast from west to east.

“The earth bunds were heavily mined, made to restrict both flow of the remaining hostages and military advances,” a defence ministry official said.

Clearing of the area will allow easy access toward the last rebel position, he said.

Meanwhile, international aid was arriving to help some 170,000 civilians who fled the combat zones to government-controlled camps. About 113,000 people fled the area since April 19.

India announced a grant of $20 million while Britain pledged $3.6 million.

United Nations humanitarian chief John Holmes said the UN would immediately release $10 million to the central relief fund, in addition to $10 million authorised last week.

Holmes called for a pause in fighting to conduct a humanitarian assessment of the conflict zone and to deliver in emergency food and medication, a UN statement said.

He also underscored the need for the UN to get full access to the civilians, a demand so far denied by the Sri Lankan government, and the release the 13 UN staff members who have been confined to the camps.

A UN plane carrying relief supplies arrived in Colombo Monday and a second plane was expected Tuesday.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were due to arrive in Sri Lanka Wednesday to discuss humanitarian concerns.

A Sri Lankan foreign ministry spokesman claimed Tuesday it had not denied a visa to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, but instead had informed him that he could visit the country in May.

Bildt was quoted Tuesday as saying he had to cancel a planned trip to Sri Lanka, along with his British and French counterparts, after the government in Colombo said it would not receive him.

Military officials say they are on the final phase of crushing the LTTE who have been fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the north and eastern parts of the country for the last 25 years.

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