29 April 2009
Sri Lanka said Thursday it would push ahead with its offensive against the Tamil Tigers, brushing off international calls for a cease-fire aimed at protecting thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone.
The rebels, facing near-certain defeat, vowed to fight on as well.
The defiant statements left little hope of averting a violent finale to the civil war that has plagued this Indian Ocean island nation for more than a quarter-century. The British and French foreign ministers came to Sri Lanka on Wednesday to press for a truce and Japan's special mediator for the conflict, Yasushi Akashi, was to arrive Thursday to appeal to the government to safeguard the estimated 50,000 civilians trapped by the fighting.
But President Mahinda Rajapaksa said he had no intention of calling off the military, which has cornered the remaining rebel fighters in a tiny strip of land along the northeast coast. "The government is not ready to enter into any kind of cease-fire with the terrorists," he said.
Rajapaksa said his government was trying to rescue the trapped civilians, and appeared impatient at the continued truce appeals. "It is my duty to protect the people of this country. I don't need lectures from Western representatives," he said, according to highlights of a speech distributed by his office.
Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the president's brother, said the war would not end until rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is captured or killed, according to The Island newspaper.()
"If any country really cares about these people, I ask that country to go beyond its 'diplomatic boundaries' for the sake of saving human lives and make Sri Lanka stop this genocidal war," rebel political chief Balasingam Nadesan told The Associated Press in an e-mail interview from the war zone.
In recent months, government troops forced the Tamil Tigers out of the shadow state they controlled in the north and cornered them in a narrow coastal strip. The U.N. says nearly 6,500 ethnic Tamil civilians have been killed in the offensive. The rebels called for a cease-fire Sunday; the government demanded the separatists surrender instead. Nadesan rejected that demand. "Surrendering and laying down our arms are out of the question. Our freedom struggle will continue until (our) legitimate aspirations are met," he said. During their visit, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his British counterpart, David Miliband, expressed the EU's concern over the rising civilian death toll. They appealed for humanitarian workers to be allowed into the area to deliver badly needed aid, but the request was denied, Kouchner said.The Red Cross said Thursday that conditions in the war zone were desperate.
"Given the catastrophic situation of thousands of displaced, sick and wounded people still in the conflict area, the parties must do more to protect them and must allow more food and medicine into the area," said Monica Zanarelli, an official with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The government and international rights groups have accused the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields to slow the military offensive. ()