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    US Urges Tamil Tiger Surrender, Aid for Sri Lankan Refugees

    The United States Friday called on remaining Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party. U.S. officials are also pressing Sri Lankan authorities to allow aid worker access to displaced persons in the rebels' last stronghold.

    The United States is calling for the surrender of beleaguered Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka and for authorities in Colombo to allow United Nations personnel into the last combat area, and to sites where Tamil refugees fleeing the fighting are being registered and temporarily housed.

    The State Department comments, the strongest to date on the burgeoning crisis in Sri Lanka, came as the Colombo government's military tightened its siege of the last remaining strip of coastal territory in the northern part of the country held by the rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the LTTE.

    The small beachfront enclave had been an army-declared no-fire zone to protect Tamil refugees, but there has been shelling in and out of the strip, which was cut in half earlier this week by an army incursion. Most of an estimated 125-thousand displaced Tamil civilians in the zone have fled but tens of thousands are believed to remain.

    At a news briefing, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the United States is extremely concerned for the safety of the remaining civilians. He renewed the U.S. call for the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, accused of using civilians as human shields, to end the hostilities. "The Tamil Tigers must stop holding civilians and stop putting them in harm's way. We call on the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party. The international community needs to provide assistance to a large number of displaced persons. The international community should be prepared to play a role to end the fighting," he said.

    Wood stressed U.S. support for peacemaking efforts by senior envoys from the Indian government, which has demanded a truce in the closing phase of the Sri Lankan conflict.

    The LTTE, which is listed by the United States as a terrorist group, has waged war for more than 25 years to carve out a Tamil enclave in the northern part of the majority-Sinhalese island nation.

    Wood said the United States is in constant diplomatic contact with the Colombo government and is also consulting on the crisis with other member governments of the G-8 industrial powers and the Tokyo Co-Chairs grouping on Sri Lanka, which includes the United States, the European Union, Japan and Norway.

    The spokesman said Sri Lanka should allow a U.N. humanitarian team into the former no-fire zone as soon as possible, and to also give the United Nations access to sites where displaced Tamils who have left the contested area are being registered and sent to housing sites.

    He further urged the government to allow additional medical evacuations from the area, where U.N. officials believe casualties have been heavy.

    U.S. officials have been appealing to the Colombo government for restraint, saying the way the conflict ends will affect inter-ethnic relations in the country for years to come.

     

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