India says it has extracted promises from Sri Lanka that the military will do
its utmost to ensure the safety of civilians caught in the cross-fire between
the army and Tamil Tiger rebels.
After a visit to Colombo lasting less
than a day, India's foreign minister says Sri Lanka's leaders have pledged to
protect hundreds of thousands of Tamils. The civilians are trapped in
northeastern Sri Lanka where the military says it has cornered the last of the
Tamil Tiger rebels in a patch of jungle.
Indian external affairs
minister Pranab Mukherjee held emergency meetings Tuesday evening with top Sri
Lankan officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
reporters in New Delhi that aid organizations should soon be able to directly
"We requested that international agencies like U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees, International Red Cross Society Committee and
other international organizations who are engaged in the relief, they should be
allowed to visit and Sri Lanka authorities should facilitate that," he said.
Diplomats say several hundred thousand people face hunger as food
Since access to the area by outsiders is restricted, it
is unclear to what extent civilians are suffering. Groups sympathetic to the
rebels claim Sri Lanka's army is shelling a designated safe zone and hundreds of
civilians have been killed or injured in recent days. The military denies this.
Sri Lankan officials say it is only a matter of time before the Tamil
Tiger rebels, who once controlled a virtual mini-state in the north, are
Government forces on Sunday captured the last town under
Speaking to India's Times Now TV news channel, Sri Lankan
Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse predicted rebel leader Villupillai
Prabhakaran will be neutralized within a few weeks.
"What can he do?
Stay in a hole. For how long can be like that? Not different from Saddam
Hussein's situation," he said. "So either he has to kill himself or
The plight of the Tamil Hindus is being closely watched in
southern India, which has a substantial Tamil population and parties there
traditionally have been sympathetic to the rebels' liberation goal. The
insurgents, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, are considered a
terrorist organization by more than 30 countries, including India and the United
Sri Lanka's government is dominated by the majority Sinhalese,
who are mainly Buddhists. Tamils in the north have long resented attempts to
repress them by the majority in the south, including the imposition on them of
the Sinhalese language.