International calls urge ceasefire in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka state celebrated independence from colonial ruler Britain on Wednesday.
The United States and Britain urged a ceasefire in Sri Lanka to evacuate casualties and allow relief into the war zone as the island state celebrated independence from colonial ruler Britain on Wednesday.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who presided over a military parade in the capital, hailed the military's recent push for victory against "the most powerful terrorist organisation in the world".
The 30-year civil war has cost the $32 billion economy dearly, and Rajapaksa urged nationals who fled the country to return home. Last week the central bank said it intended to raise $500 million from diaspora for a raft of development projects.
In recent weeks the army has closed in on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebel movement holding out in a 300-sq-km (115 sq-mile) slice of jungle in the northeast, aiming to end a war that started in 1983.
A joint statement issued by the United States and the United Kingdom, following a meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Secretary David Miliband, raised serious concerns about the plight of civilians caught up in the conflict.
"Secretary Clinton and Foreign Secretary Miliband call on both the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to agree to a temporary no-fire period. Both sides need to allow civilians and wounded to leave the conflict area and to grant access for humanitarian agencies," the statement said.
The United States, European Union, Japan and Norway on Tuesday urged Tamil Tiger rebels to consider surrendering to avoid more deaths.
The call for the separatist rebels to discuss a surrender came as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said civilians were fleeing a hospital in the war zone that had been shelled for a fifth time in three days. The ICRC says at least 12 people have been killed in the hospital in Puthukudiyiruppu.
Sri Lanka's military has encircled the Tigers and is confident it will end a conflict that has killed 70,000 people in one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies.
Aid agencies say 250,000 people are trapped in Tiger-held areas, but the government says the number is about half of that.
Rajapaksa, in an address to military top brass, politicians and diplomats to mark the 61st independence anniversary, said that in the space of 2-½ years the army had reached the stage where it had almost completely defeated the rebels.
"Our troops were able to carry forward the battle against terror with great care so as not to cause harassment to the innocent Tamil people."
Reuters Last Mod: 04 Şubat 2009, 09:49