Central & South Asia
Sri Lanka dismisses EU truce call
Government says Tamil Tiger separatists are to blame for growing humanitarian crisis.
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2009 18:59 GMT
The Red Cross says that conditions in the war
zone are worsening by the day [Reuters]

Sri Lanka has rejected a European Union call for an immediate ceasefire in fighting between government troops and the rebel Tamil Tigers in the north of the island.

The EU had urged the two sides to halt fighting to allow humanitarian aid to reach a so-called "safe zone" in the thin sliver of territory where fighting is continuing.

"What are we going to achieve with a ceasefire other than giving in to the demands of the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam]?" Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's foreign secretary, said on Tuesday.

He said that the Tamil Tigers would use any interruption in the fighting to acquire weapons and regroup.

'Very dangerous'

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, said on Monday that the ceasefire was needed as the situation for civilians trapped in the war zone was "very dangerous".

Focus: Sri Lanka
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Caught in the middle
"Approximately 170,000 people ... are being trapped in the northern part of Sri Lanka and neither the Sri Lanka government or the LTTE has until now accepted our appeal," she said.

Ferrero-Waldner said that an EU delegation would travel to the country to push for the ceasefire.

The LTTE made no immediate comment on the ceasefire call.

Kohona said that the separatists were responsible for civilian casualties as they are using them as human shields after the military pushed them back into a tiny area on the northeastern coast.

"They are holding their own people hostage, the international community should recognise this,'' he said.

Red Cross warning

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday conditions were getting worse for civilians by the day in the war zone.

The ICRC has helped about 4,000 people leave the area this year.

"Many of these people are forced to shelter in trenches. They are in considerable physical danger after being forced to move from place to place en masse for weeks or even months," Paul Castella, ICRC Sri Lanka mission head, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber blew himself up several metres from the frontline on Monday, the military said.

"A soldier on the frontline in Puthukudiyiruppu observed a military-uniformed man coming towards the [line] and when he moved ahead to search him, the terrorist exploded himself," Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said.

He said no soldiers were killed or wounded.

The LTTE has been battling government forces, seeking a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the north and east of the country.

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