Army operations will continue: Sri Lankan president

Colombo, April 30 (Inditop) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has declared that “humanitarian operations” by the military to rescue civilians held hostage by Tamil rebels will continue unabated, a state-run newspaper said Thursday.

Rajapaksa made clear his government’s position in a meeting with visiting British Foreign Minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner, who reiterated calls by the European Union for a truce between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to allow civilians trapped in the conflict zone in north-eastern Sri Lanka to flee.

The president told the ministers that strict instructions have been given to the security forces to ensure no civilians were harmed in any way during the operation, the Daily News reported.

Miliband and Kouchner Wednesday visited government-controlled camps in Vavuniya, about 250 km north of Colombo, where an estimated 170,000 civilians found shelter after they fled the rebel-held areas.

Miliband had stressed that his government regarded the protection of civilians paramount.

Up to 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the combat zone, a part of the Mullaitivu district where civilians and rebels are confined to an area of five sq km, as the military is carrying on with their operations.

According to unofficial UN figures some 6,500 people have been killed since January, the latest phase of the ongoing conflict, with the majority of the casualties caused by military shelling of the combat zones, while others where murdered by the LTTE when trying to flee the area.

The Sri Lankan government and the UN have accused the LTTE of using civilians as human shields.

The LTTE has been fighting for more than 25 years for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority in majority-Sinhalese Sri Lanka.