Two-day break in Tamil offensive to allow civilians flee

SRI LANKA’S president ordered a two-day suspension of offensives against Tamil Tiger rebels to enable tens of thousands of trapped civilians to leave the war zone, his office said yesterday.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa directed the armed forces to restrict operations during the Sri Lankan New Year to a defensive nature and renewed his call to the rebel group to “acknowledge its military defeat and lay down its weapons and surrender”, a statement said.

He said the rebels must renounce violence permanently.

The president’s call came amid increasing international pressure on the government to protect civilians trapped with the remaining guerrillas in a government-declared “no-fire” zone measuring just 20sq km.

The UN says about 100,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone with dozens dying every day.

The government and aid groups accuse the rebels of using civilians as human shields and have called for their release. The rebels and rights groups have accused the military of firing into the safe zone — a charge the military denies.

Britain welcomed the government announcement, but said it was vital that rebels also observe the suspension.

“The pause must be long enough for all those who want to leave the conflict zone to do so safely,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement yesterday.

“Temporary relief for civilians must be the first step towards a resolution of the conflict.”

Miliband also said it is essential that access is provided for international humanitarian relief efforts and for journalists “given the scale of the alleged abuses on both sides”.

At least 100,000 marched in London on Saturday to demand an immediate end to Sri Lanka’s military offensive and the suspension of development aid to Sri Lanka, which is a former British colony.


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