The Sri Lankan president has assured the United Nations that the
military will safeguard civilians as the battle to defeat the Tamil
Tiger rebels enters what may be its final phase. The U.N and aid
agencies have expressed concern over the danger faced by tens of
thousands of civilians who are trapped in a small area with the rebels
in the northeast of the country.
A statement from the
president's office in Colombo says that President Mahinda Rajapakse has
assured United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the offensive
to crush the Tamil Tiger rebels will proceed "without harassment to the
The promise was made when the United
Nations chief telephoned the Sri Lankan president late Thursday to
discuss the plight of civilians caught in the war zone.
recent days the United Nations and aid agencies have said that an
estimated quarter of a million civilians caught in a small pocket with
the rebels are coming under a barrage of shelling and bombing, and that
many have been killed or wounded.
But the government has
turned down calls for a brief truce to allow the civilians to leave the
area, saying it is on the brink of defeating the rebels. It has however
asked civilians to enter a "no war zone" declared by the army.
Army spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara says more than 2,500 civilians have entered the "safe zone," and more are waiting to come.
number of civilians now making their way to the areas, today, at the
moment about 600 have come, so we expect more numbers to come into that
area," he said.
The army says it is now targeting the remaining
fighters of the Tamil Tigers, who are confined to an area of about 175
square kilometers. The military says it has cut them off from all their
supply routes after overrunning their largest naval base.
Nanayakkara says the army will finish the operation to crush the guerrillas quickly once the civilians come out.
is just a matter of time to move into the area and get hold of them,
but as we are to be careful about the civilians there is a delay, but
we are progressing steadily," he said.
The rebels have not
commented on the government claims, and independent verification is
difficult because journalists are not allowed into the war zone.
the past year, the rebels, who have been fighting for a quarter century
for an independent Tamil homeland, have lost all the towns and areas
they controlled in the north.