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Sri Lanka tells India, will protect civilians


Jan 28, 2009 at 05:22pm IST

New Delhi/Colombo: There are clear signs in India that the Centre has buckled to pressure from alliance partners, the DMK party.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had rushed to Colombo last night for urgent talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse.

Mukherjee stated before his departure that India had no sympathy for the LTTE and was only interested in ensuring that Tamils are safe. He requested the Sri Lankan govt to make a basic effort to protect civilians.

CIVIL WAR: The Tamil separatists had been asking for a separate state for Tamils, as they complained of prejudice at the hands of majority Sri Lankans.

President Rajapakse has also invited Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa to be part of the Tamil delegation that will be visiting the war-torn northern region. Meanwhile, the Lankan army's battle against the LTTE continues in Mullativu.

Mukherjee said, "Rajapakse assured me that Lankan military will respect safe zones. India will work with Sri Lanka to ensure Tamils can lead normal lives. President assured me that he was committed to revolving power to the Tamil people."

MDMK leader Vaiko has strongly criticised the Indian government for its dealing of the situation in Sri Lanka.

AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa said, "The only solution to Lanka's problem is a ceasefire. If (Tamil Nadu chief minister) Karunanidhi tells the LTTE to do so they would because he has always been a staunch supporter of LTTE. So the LTTE should call a ceasefire and surrender."

"Mahinda Rajapakse is responsible for the killing of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Indian government has done the same thing. They too are responsible for the genocide against the Tamils in Sri Lanka," Vaiko said.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government has come out and denied any human rights violations in the area. The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama on Tuesday defended his country's human rights record during a meeting with EU officials in Brussels. He also discussed his way out of the tense situation in Sri Lanka at present.

''There are no human rights abuses in our country. This is something we are, we are very conscious to try and adopt and we have a zero tolerance approach in term of human rights abuses in the country. There is, there is conscious pursuit of any violations committed by the government through the administration of the the legal system,'' said the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister.

"The LTTE should surrender their cadres, they should follow democracy, they should submit, that's the way forward," he added.

Reports from Colomboa say that Sri Lanka has pledged not to launch attacks inside a 'safe zone' set up as a place of refuge for hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped by the fierce fighting between the military and Tamil rebels, the government said Wednesday.

The announcement came after repeated reports of army forces firing artillery into the zone, which the government set up on the edge of rebel-held territory for ethnic Tamil civilians to seek shelter from the fighting. Scores of civilians were killed in those attacks, a health official said.

The military denied firing into the area during its offensive to root the Tamil Tiger rebels from the northeast.

Amid the reports of rising casualties, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee rushed to Sri Lanka on Tuesday night and held emergency meetings with top officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

During the late-night meeting, Rajapaksa gave assurances Sri Lankan forces would respect the safe zone to 'minimize the effects of conflict on Tamil civilians,' according to nearly identical statements released by India and Sri Lanka on Wednesday.

Human rights groups and diplomats have expressed concerns for the estimated 250,000 civilians trapped in the territory still under rebel control — an area of about 115 square miles (300 square kilometers). The government says the number is far lower.

At least 300 civilians were wounded and scores feared killed by Sri Lankan army artillery shells fired into the safe zone on Monday, according to a health official and pro-rebel reports. The military denied firing into the zone.

The government unilaterally declared a 'safe zone' last week in a small section of rebel-held territory and called on civilians to move into that area. There have been several reports of artillery fire in that area, including Monday's shelling.

UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said his staff has seen 'dozens of people killed and wounded' in the safe zone over the past few days, including 10 civilians killed Monday. He said he did not know who was responsible for firing in the area.

But a local health official, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the government, said he believed the government was responsible for the casualties because of the direction from which the fire came.

The Red Cross appealed to both sides Tuesday to allow the civilians to flee to safety.

"People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded," said Jacques de Maio, the International Committee of the Red Cross head of operations for South Asia.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said 3,141 civilians have fled to the government-controlled territory this month.

The shelling comes as the rebels continue to pull their forces and civilians into the last remaining areas of dense jungle still under their control. Government forces captured Mullaittivu, the last town held by the rebels, on Sunday.

The LTTE fighters have fought since 1983 to create a separate state for minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war.

Lanka has pledged not to launch attacks inside a 'safe zone' set up as a place of refuge for hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped by the fierce fighting between the military and Tamilrebels, the government said Wednesday.

The announcement came after repeated reports of army forces firing artillery into the zone, which the government set up on the edge of rebel-held territory for ethnic Tamil civilians to seek shelter from the fighting.

Scores of civilians were killed in those attacks, a health official said.

The military denied firing into the area during its offensive to root the Tamil Tiger rebels from the northeast.

Amid the reports of rising casualties, Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee rushed to Sri Lanka on Tuesday night and held emergency meetings with top officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

During the late-night meeting, Rajapaksa gave assurances Sri Lankan forces would respect the safe zone to "minimize the effects of conflict on Tamil civilians," according to nearly identical statements released by India and Sri Lanka on Wednesday.

Human rights groups and diplomats have expressed concerns for the estimated 250,000 civilians trapped in the territory still under rebel control — an area of about 115 square miles (300 square kilometers).

The government says the number is far lower.

At least 300 civilians were wounded and scores feared killed by Sri Lankan army artillery shells fired into the safe zone on Monday, according to a health official and pro-rebel reports. The military denied firing into the zone.

The government unilaterally declared a "safe zone" last week in a small section of rebel-held territory and called on civilians to move into that area. There have been several reports of artillery fire in that area, including Monday's shelling.

UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said his staff has seen "dozens of people killed and wounded" in the safe zone over the past few days, including 10 civilians killed Monday. He said he did not know who was responsible for firing in the area.

But a local health official, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the government, said he believed the government was responsible for the casualties because of the direction from which the fire came.

The Red Cross appealed to both sides Tuesday to allow the civilians to flee to safety.

"People are being caught in the crossfire, hospitals and ambulances have been hit by shelling and several aid workers have been injured while evacuating the wounded," said Jacques de Maio, the International Committee of the Red Cross head of operations for South Asia.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said 3,141 civilians have fled to the government-controlled territory this month.

The shelling comes as the rebels continue to pull their forces and civilians into the last remaining areas of dense jungle still under their control. Government forces captured Mullaittivu, the last town held by the rebels, on Sunday.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create a separate state for minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the civil war.

(With inputs from CNN-IBN and Associated Press)

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