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Sri Lankan President Appeals to Rebels to Allow Civilians to Flee War Zone


Aid organizations are hopeful a statement by Sri Lanka's president will allow additional sick and wounded civilians caught in the northern war zone to get to safety.

Aid organizations in Sri Lanka are optimistic they will soon be able to assist more civilians caught between government and rebel forces.

Proposed cease-fire would allow for civilian evacuations

The country's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is calling for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to allow, during a 48-hour period, innocents trapped in the war zone to leave.

Sri Lankan government and military officials deny reports they have declared a cease-fire to allow evacuations.

A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Sarai Wijeratne, says its workers need assurances from both sides to conduct evacuations and that has only been happening on a weekly basis.

"That has been the pattern in the last couple of weeks. But, of course, we are now hopeful that it will happen more often. So that's why the ICRC is looking forward to actually seizing this opportunity as a result of the announcement made by the president to attempt other evacuations of sick and wounded patients," said Wijeratne.

It is estimated that a quarter million Tamils may be caught in the crossfire. More than 200 injured and ill people were moved out of a hospital in a rebel-held town on Thursday.

Sri Lanka is accusing the Tamil Tigers of placing artillery in a declared safe zone.

Human rights violations alleged on both sides

International officials and diplomats say both sides are violating human rights. They contend the rebels are holding hostage many civilians and that the army has launched heavy attacks in populated areas.

Reports of heavy civilian casualties this week are inflaming passions in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. There, lawyers are on strike and demonstrations are being held to oppose what is perceived as Indian government support of Sri Lanka's military push to wipe out the Tamil rebel fighting force.

An emotional funeral took place Friday in Tamil Nadu for a 26-year-old newspaper journalist identified as K. Muthukumar, who burned himself to death in front of the central government office in Chennai to protest Indian government policies towards Sri Lanka.

Vaiyapuri Gopalswamy, leader of the MDMK, a regional Indian pro-Tamil political party, spoke to the mourners.

The MDMK secretary-general says he hails the young man as a martyr and a champion who sacrificed himself for the Tamil cause.

The Tamil Tigers appear to be on the verge of defeat after fighting for more than 25 years for a separate ethnic homeland.
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