Global Pressure Heats Up to End Sri Lanka War

Britain and France renew calls for a ceasefire, but is anyone listening?

April 29, 2009, 10:04 AM

NEW DELHI, April 29, 2009 — -- Neither the United Nations nor European foreign ministers have convinced the Sri Lankan government to stop what they say is their final push to end the 25-year civil war.

British and French foreign ministers on Wednesday urged the government to implement a humanitarian ceasefire in the battle. Earlier this week U.N. Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes called for both sides to stop fighting while on his three-day mission to the tiny island nation.

"Protection of civilians is absolutely paramount at this moment. The LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] must end preventing civilians leaving the conflict zone and the fighting must stop," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters, according to Reuters.

Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner are calling for the government to allow the U.N. and aid workers access to the war zone. The Sri Lankan government has also denied independent press access to the conflict areas.

The United Nations estimates that about 50,000 civilians are still trapped in a 4-square-mile stretch of land in rebel-held territory on the country's northeast coast.

The civil war began nearly three decades ago with the LTTE's desire for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's ethnic minority Hindu Tamils who they believe are treated like second-class citizens. The Buddhist Sinhalese government strongly denies this claim.

On Monday, the Sri Lankan military ended the use of heavy weapons and combat aircraft in what it says is an effort to protect the tens of thousands of civilians caught between warring sides. Although shortly after the announcement, the rebels claimed the government had not kept its word, according to TamilNet, a Web site created for the ethnic minority Tamils.

The Media War: State TV Broadcasts LTTE 'Confession'

Earlier today, two top former LTTE rebels confessed on Sri Lankan state-run television that the Tamil Tiger rebels had killed fleeing civilians.

"LTTE stopped people from leaving, but the strong managed to escape. The LTTE killed many fleeing civilians," said George Master, a translator for an LTTE strategist.

Sri Lanka has been widely censured for its crackdown on journalists critical of the government's viewpoint. Some analysts doubt the authenticity of this alleged confession by former LTTE leaders. If true, the confessions do support statements made to ABC News by M R Hassen, deputy director, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"They are using long-range mortars and ammunition and they also use machine guns to attack civilians fleeing from that area," Hassan said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that the civilians trapped in the country are in desperate need of food, water and medical care. Many of the wounded have shrapnel embedded in their bodies and have had their limbs amputated, an IRCR spokesperson told ABC News.

An estimated 200,000 civilians are believed to have been displaced by the recent fighting and are currently living in refugee camps.

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