As Sri Lanka's army battles rebels to establish total control over the north and
the coastline, concern is mounting about civilian casualties.
and aid organizations say hundreds of thousands of people appear trapped in
northern Sri Lanka, as the army encircles the remnants of the fighting force of
the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
United Nations Secretary General
Ban Ki-moon is expressing deep concern about the fate of civilians in the
crossfire. He is calling on the rebels and the government to respect safety
zones and civilian infrastructure.
In Colombo, U.N. spokesman Gordon
Weiss says there are few humanitarian workers in the area and it is difficult to
ascertain the extent of what the international organization now sees as a
"We have a population of 200,000 to 300,000 persons
who are cutoff from the rest of Sri Lanka, surrounded by Sri Lankan government
military forces," he said. "And, seeded among the population, and in and around
them, there are the LTTE fighters who are under severe pressure from the Sri
Lankan military and they're fighting a desperate battle for survival."
internet web site sympathetic to the rebels claims as many as 300 civilians were
killed Monday by army shelling inside a government-proclaimed no-fire zone.
The Sri Lankan military denies it fired into the safe zone. There is no
way to independently verify the information, including the government's
contention the Tamil Tigers are cornered in a small patch of jungle and no
longer control any significant territory.
Some journalists Tuesday are being escorted
by Sri Lanka's military for a rare visit into the conflict area. They have
reported hearing distant heavy weapons fire. A Sri Lankan field commander told
them close-quarter battles were underway outside the northeastern town of
Puthukkudiyiruppu in the predominately-Tamil Mullaitivu district.
has dispatched External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to Colombo. He spoke
to reporters Tuesday in New Delhi, before his departure.
"LTTE is a
been-banned organization in India," he said. "But we are concerned with the
plight of the civilians and we shall have to see how the civilians can be
protected and they cannot become helpless victims of the
Southern India has a significant Tamil population and one of
the Congress Party's allies in the national governing coalition is the DMK, a
party sympathetic to the rebels in Sri Lanka.
The insurgents have waged
a decades-long struggle against the primarily-Buddhist Sinhalese in the south.
At its peak, the LTTE ran a virtual state in the north.
government now appears to have virtually vanquished the Tigers as a military
threat. However, few in the country expect this will mean the end of the
violent struggle by the mainly Hindu Tamils, bitter about their marginalization
by the Sinhalese majority.