Sri Lanka appeals to ICRC, foreign monitors to help create safe haven for civilians
Wed December 13, 2006 02:51 EST .
DILIP GANGULY - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) The government asked the International Committee of the Red Cross and foreign cease-fire monitors Wednesday to seek help from the Tamil rebels to create a safe haven for about 35,000 civilians caught in violence in Sri Lanka - 's east. ``We have made the proposal and we are waiting for a response,'' Palitha Kohona, the chief of Sri Lanka - 's Peace Secretariat, told The Associated Press Wednesday.
The ICRC said it is in constant touch with the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to find ways to protect civilians.
``Discussions are going on, but the issue is the responsibility of the government and the LTTE. We can only help but we cannot impose our decision,'' ICRC spokesman Davide Vignati said Wednesday
Kohona said the rebels have been using displaced civilians as human shields.
The LTTE hit back, accusing the government of blocking a road and making it difficult for displaced people to reach safer places.
``In spite of these random shellings that have so far taken 89 refugee lives, the assault has not been condemned,'' the rebels said in a statement e-mailed to news organizations based in the capital, Colombo.
The government closed the A-15 route connecting the Vaharai area with the rest of the district in mid-September to prevent rebels moving their fighters and weapons for new attacks.
``Accusations are being made that the LTTE is not allowing people to leave. At least the A-15 route could be opened and (only) then accusations could be made that the LTTE is preventing the people from leaving,'' the rebels said in their statement.
Relations have been deteriorating quickly between the rebels and the government, who signed a 2002 cease-fire to halt open war after two decades of fighting. But the truce is now in tatters and almost daily killing has brought fear of open war.
The United Nations issued a statement Tuesday calling for urgent action to help about 35,000 civilians, mostly Tamils, trapped in Batticaloa as the army and the rebels fight over territory.
On Monday, Sri Lanka - 's military said a daylong artillery and mortar battle in the area killed 24 soldiers and 40 rebels.
``The United Nations is deeply concerned about indiscriminate shelling of civilian residential areas, leading to death, injuries and evacuation of communities out of danger zones,'' it said.
``The critical need of the moment is the protection of these desperate civilians,'' the U.N. said.
Published: Wed Dec 13 05:08:15 EST 2006