Sri Lanka pledges to protect civilians in fighting
Sat October 18, 2008 13:39 EDT .
KRISHAN FRANCIS - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lanka - 's president tried to assure India on Saturday that the military campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels was trying to minimize civilian casualties, amid protests by ethnic Tamils in India who say their people in the neighboring island are being targeted. Sri Lanka - 's Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama also invited India's Extrenal Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee for a visit, the statement said.
The discussion between the two leaders took place amid increasing resentment over Sri Lanka - 's military campaign, in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu, home to some 55 million Tamils who have ancestral links with the Tamils in Sri Lanka - .
According to the United Nations and other humanitarian groups, about 220,000 people have been displaced, as government soldiers push into rebel-held territory seizing rebel bases and large chunks of land.
The government last month expelled aid workers from the rebel-held region but has allowed U.N. food convoys.
Sri Lanka - says the rebels are facing defeat in their 25-year campaign for a separate state for minority Tamils as the government troops inch closer to the insurgents' nerve center Kilinochchi.
Meanwhile the rebels put up stiff resistance Saturday on two fronts against troops trying to advance into Kilinochchi causing casualties on both sides, a military statement said. It did not provide details.
Air force helicopters also bombed one of those resistance points, the military said.
On Friday two soldiers and two Tamil rebels were killed in latest violence in the north and in a popular wildlife park in the southeast, the military said.
Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said troops recovered the bodies of two guerrillas after several clashes Friday near Kilinochchi. One soldier was killed and four others were wounded in those clashes, he said.
Separately, one soldier died when army units attacked a group of rebels inside the Yala wildlife park in the island's southeast, Nanayakkara said.
India has generally been reluctant to become directly involved in Sri Lanka - 's internal affairs after a disastrous military intervention in the 1980s that led to the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a Tamil Tiger suicide bomber in 1991.
But Tamils living in India's Tamil Nadu are concerned about the future of Sri Lanka - 's Tamils. In addition, India's prominence in the region, along with its large Tamil population, means that it plays a powerful diplomatic role in Sri Lanka - .
Sri Lanka - 's civil war, largely concentrated in the ethnic Tamil-majority north and east, has killed more than 70,000 people.
Rebel spokesmen could not be contacted for comment on the military reports because most communication lines to guerrilla-held regions have been severed.Discuss this story
Published: Sat Oct 18 14:19:23 EDT 2008