Diplomatic pressure boiling, demands to stop the offensive
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Author:  Saman [ Sat Apr 25, 2009 9:01 am ]
Post subject:  Diplomatic pressure boiling, demands to stop the offensive

U.N. Says Thousands Killed in Sri Lanka

Published: April 24, 2009
Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — An average of 70 civilians have been killed each day since late January in fighting between the Sri Lankan government and ethnic Tamil separatists, according to the latest tally by the United Nations.

Despite international calls for a cease-fire, including a visit here on Friday by senior Indian officials, the government is pushing ahead with its plans to destroy the remnants of the Tamil Tigers, now confined to a narrow strip of land about four miles long off Sri Lanka’s northeast coast.

More than 100,000 civilians fled the combat zone earlier this week, but the United Nations estimates that 50,000 to 100,000 civilians remain trapped on the sandy spit of land. The assessment is based on satellite images and reports from United Nations workers in the conflict zone.

“The humanitarian conditions in the conflict area are very grim,” said Sarasi Wijueatne, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has evacuated 11,000 sick and wounded by ferry in the past three months.

“There’s a lack of medical staff, supplies and drinking water,” she said. “The people who remain are completely reliant on humanitarian aid, and as far as we are aware no food has gone in there since the first week of April.”

Sri Lanka’s Defense Ministry said Friday that 15,000 to 20,000 civilians were caught in the conflict zone. The government, which by its own admission has underestimated the number of trapped civilians in the past, says that Tamil rebels are shelling the area and using the civilians as human shields.

Relief agencies and the United Nations blame both sides for the civilian deaths.

As the military cordon around the separatists has tightened, the rebels appear to be forcing an increasing number of civilians to take up arms, said Gordon Weiss, a United Nations spokesman in the capital, Colombo.

“They’ve been recruiting civilians to fight, handing them AK-47s,” he said. “Increasingly, they’ve been recruiting children. We hear as young as 12.”

Some 6,432 civilians, many of them children, have been killed in the past three months and 13,946 have been wounded, according to a United Nations document obtained by news agencies.

The toll was compiled by the United Nations, based on information from government doctors and its own workers, and was corroborated by the Red Cross. The tally may already be out of date. “Hundreds more civilians have been killed or wounded in recent days,” said Ms. Wijueatne, the Red Cross spokeswoman.

The sharply rising death toll worsens prospects for an eventual political reconciliation between the ethnic Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority that has long strived for greater autonomy. The casualties will also embitter the influential and wealthy Tamils living overseas who have been major backers of the insurgency, according to Alan Keenan, an analyst for the International Crisis Group.

“The levels of anger among Tamils and the sense of humiliation — as well as a desire for revenge — are unprecedented,” Mr. Keenan said.

Author:  Saman [ Sat Apr 25, 2009 9:04 am ]
Post subject:  US Urges Tamil Tiger Surrender, Aid for Sri Lankan Refugees

US Urges Tamil Tiger Surrender, Aid for Sri Lankan Refugees

The United States Friday called on remaining Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party.

By David Gollust
Washington -25 April 2009

The United States Friday called on remaining Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party. U.S. officials are also pressing Sri Lankan authorities to allow aid worker access to displaced persons in the rebels' last stronghold.

The United States is calling for the surrender of beleaguered Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka and for authorities in Colombo to allow United Nations personnel into the last combat area, and to sites where Tamil refugees fleeing the fighting are being registered and temporarily housed.

The State Department comments, the strongest to date on the burgeoning crisis in Sri Lanka, came as the Colombo government's military tightened its siege of the last remaining strip of coastal territory in the northern part of the country held by the rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE.

The small beachfront enclave had been an army-declared no-fire zone to protect Tamil refugees, but there has been shelling in and out of the strip, which was cut in half earlier this week by an army incursion. Most of an estimated 125-thousand displaced Tamil civilians in the zone have fled but tens of thousands are believed to remain.

At a news briefing, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the United States is extremely concerned for the safety of the remaining civilians. He renewed the U.S. call for the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, accused of using civilians as human shields, to end the hostilities. "The Tamil Tigers must stop holding civilians and stop putting them in harm's way. We call on the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party. The international community needs to provide assistance to a large number of displaced persons. The international community should be prepared to play a role to end the fighting," he said.

Wood stressed U.S. support for peacemaking efforts by senior envoys from the Indian government, which has demanded a truce in the closing phase of the Sri Lankan conflict.

The LTTE, which is listed by the United States as a terrorist group, has waged war for more than 25 years to carve out a Tamil enclave in the northern part of the majority-Sinhalese island nation.

Wood said the United States is in constant diplomatic contact with the Colombo government and is also consulting on the crisis with other member governments of the G-8 industrial powers and the Tokyo Co-Chairs grouping on Sri Lanka, which includes the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway.

The spokesman said Sri Lanka should allow a U.N. humanitarian team into the former no-fire zone as soon as possible, and to also give the United Nations access to sites where displaced Tamils who have left the contested area are being registered and sent to housing sites.

He further urged the government to allow additional medical evacuations from the area, where U.N. officials believe casualties have been heavy.

U.S. officials have been appealing to the Colombo government for restraint, saying the way the conflict ends will affect inter-ethnic relations in the country for years to come.

Author:  Saman [ Sat Apr 25, 2009 9:08 am ]
Post subject:  Obama White House urges halt to Sri Lanka fighting

Obama White House urges halt to Sri Lanka fighting

Diplomatic pressure over the war has boiled over this week with the U.N. Security Council, the United States, India and others demanding Sri Lanka stop its offensive and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam surrender to avert civilian casualties.

WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters)
@ UK Reuters

President Barack Obama's administration on Friday urged the warring Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tigers militant group to halt their fighting immediately and allow civilians to evacuate.

"The United States is deeply concerned about the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers, and the mounting death toll," the White House said in a statement.

"We call on both sides to stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone," it said.

The Sri Lankan military has said more than 108,000 people have poured out of the dwindling rebel area since Monday, when troops blasted through an earth barrier the Tigers built to block movement in and out of the zone.

Diplomatic pressure over the war has boiled over this week with the U.N. Security Council, the United States, India and others demanding Sri Lanka stop its offensive and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam surrender to avert civilian casualties.

The White House urged Sri Lanka's government to stop shelling the safe zone and preventing international aid groups and media from gaining access to civilians who have escaped the fighting.

"International aid workers should have access to all sites where internally displaced persons are being registered and sheltered," the White House said. "The United States is working with international partners to attempt to care for those civilians who can be reached."

The White House called on both sides to "strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law."

"We are very concerned about reports of violations, and take these allegations very seriously," the statement said. (Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Todd Eastham)

Author:  Saman [ Fri May 01, 2009 8:01 am ]
Post subject:  IMF under pressure to delay Sri Lanka's $1.9bn aid loan

IMF under pressure to delay Sri Lanka's $1.9bn aid loan

Peter Beaumont
@The Guardian, Friday 1 May 2009

The International Monetary Fund came under growing pressure yesterday to delay a $1.9bn (£1.3bn) emergency loan to Sri Lanka, as Colombo emphatically rejected British and French calls for a ceasefire in its campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

A day after David Miliband, the foreign secretary, and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner called for a truce on a visit to the country, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that he "did not need lectures from western representatives". Despite clear evidence of suffering among the tens of thousands of civilians who remain trapped with the Tamil Tigers in an increasingly small pocket of land, Rajapaksa described the military offensive in the country's north as a "humanitarian operation".

Sri Lanka has insisted that it will continue with its operations until the Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran is captured "dead or alive", despite repeated calls for a ceasefire so some 50,000 civilians can escape the war zone. The Red Cross yesterday said conditions for the thousands of sick, injured and displaced still trapped were catastrophic. A report on the Sri Lankan ministry of defence's website described a tense meeting at which Rajapaksa and his defence minister told the two visiting foreign ministers that international humanitarian concerns were a ploy to save the surving Tamil Tigers.

Foreign office sources said, however, that they did not recognise the meeting as it was depicted. Underlining the failure of the European delegation - which had started inauspiciously with the refusal of Colombo to give a visa to a third European foreign minister, Carl Bildt of Sweden - the Sri Lankan president said yesterday in a speech: "We have at no time gone for a ceasefire. We will not do so now. There is no time for that now. In the five or six days remaining we have given the opportunity for the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and surrender." But Balasingam Nadesan, a Tamil Tiger leader, yesterday ruled out a surrender.

With little progress made in bringing an end to the fighting, the issue of using the IMF loan as leverage to bring about a cessation to the fighting and improve humanitarian access has been propelled up the political agenda. US and European sources have suggested that because of the political dimension to Sri Lanka's loan application - which said that the money was required in part to resettle those displaced from the fighting in the north and east of the country - the issue of how precisely it would be delivered would come within the IMF's remit as well as the economic criteria for the loan.

Underlining the concerns, a Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday: "We and the IMF need to be assured that the [Sri Lankan] government is in a position where it can credibly implement a programme of economic reform and make good use of any money that is provided. We urge the Sri Lankan government to work to provide the international community with this assurance." US officials in Washington have indicated that they want the loan to Sri Lanka delayed to encourage Colombo to do more to help the civilians caught in the last Tamil Tiger pocket on the coastline measuring some two miles square.

Last night Miliband was due to discuss the loan with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton among other issues arising from his visit.

Author:  Saman [ Fri May 01, 2009 8:12 am ]
Post subject:  UN council sees no need to punish Sri Lanka

UN council sees no need to punish Sri Lanka

Thu Apr 30, 2009 8:56pm EDT
By Louis Charbonneau
© Thomson Reuters 2009

UNITED NATIONS, April 30 (Reuters) - The members of the U.N. Security Council agree there is no point in punishing Sri Lanka by withholding a $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund loan or other steps, the council's president said on Thursday.

"I have not heard anyone suggesting that," Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, president of the 15-nation council, told reporters after an informal session on Sri Lanka.

Asked if all members of the council agreed that penalties such as withholding the loan were unnecessary, Heller said, "Absolutely." U.S. officials said on Wednesday Washington was trying to delay the loan to pressure the government to do more to help tens of thousands of civilians caught in the fighting between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

But Sri Lanka's central bank said on Thursday that there was no delay in its application for the loan and negotiations were in the final stages. British Ambassador John Sawers said London agreed that punishing Sri Lanka did not belong on the agenda.

"We're not in the job of penalizing the government of Sri Lanka," Sawers said. "We want to help the government of Sri Lanka to address this problem. I just wish that the government ... was more open to the offers of help that have been extended to it."

U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes briefed the council on his trip Sri Lanka, telling them that he hoped the government would finally live up to its repeated promises to stop using heavy artillery in the conflict zone, where U.N. officials estimate some 50,000 people are trapped.

It is the last redoubt of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have been fighting a 25-year war with the government for a separate ethnic Tamil homeland. In remarks prepared for the press, Heller said the council repeated its calls on the government not to shell the conflict zone and urged the Tigers to stop using the civilians as human shields and lay down their weapons.

Sri Lankan Ambassador H.M.G.S. Palihakkara said his government had assured him it was not using heavy artillery against the tiny strip of land where the civilians are. But U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice made clear Washington had doubts about the government's denials.

"Despite the government of Sri Lanka's promise to suspend combat operations, most accounts indicate that shelling into the conflict zone continues," she said in remarks prepared for delivery at the closed-door meeting. "Very credible reports also indicate that the Tamil Tigers are using civilians as human shields, and have, in some cases, shot at civilians trying to leave the conflict area." Rice urged both sides to "prevent further loss of civilian life." (Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

© Thomson Reuters 2009.

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