The spectre of mounting civilian casualties in Sri Lanka, in the middle of the Lok Sabha polls prompted New Delhi to announce that two special emissaries would visit Colombo on Friday to secure an “immediate cessation of hostilities”.
National Security Adviser MK Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon are expected to meet the Sri Lankan leadership and convey India's concerns to them, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Thursday.
In his third formal statement within a week on the Lankan crisis, Mukherjee stressed, "We are very unhappy at the continued killings in Sri Lanka. All killings must stop." On Wednesday, India described the LTTE holding civilians hostage as "barbaric".
Mukherjee was scheduled to speak to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the evolving situation in Sri Lanka, a senior official stated.
The LTTE, meanwhile, received a rocketing from the UN Security Council (UNSC), which demanded that the rebels stop using displaced Tamil civilians as human shields and immediately surrender.
“The LTTE is a terrorist organisation and should be condemned for its use of civilian as a human shield. The LTTE should immediately lay down arms and renounce its terror tactics,’’ said Ambassador Claude Heller, the UNSC president said after an informal meeting in New York.
The statement came as civilians continued to move out of the “no fire zone” (NFZ) in the north-eastern district of Mullaitivu. The surge, however, had reduced to a trickle on Thursday with around 3,000 coming out to government-controlled areas.
“We expect that around 15,000 to 20,000 more civilians continue to be in the NFZ, which is now less than 10 square km in size,’’ defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told HT. He said about 1.8 lakh refugees were now camping in government-controlled areas.
Rajapaksa said the Sri Lankan army (SLA) troops were fighting the LTTE cadres for every metre of territory. “The troops are inside the NFZ and are engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the remaining LTTE cadres. They (LTTE) were using machine guns and mortars. The leaders including V Prabhakaran are inside the zone – we have no information about him escaping – and ultimately the soldiers will confront them,’’ Rajapaksa said.
About Prabhakaran, Rajapaksa said he was still inside along with his family. “The army, navy and air force have taken precautions not to allow him to escape. But there could be gaps. He could also commit suicide. As the ‘leader’ he might have instructed the cadres to burn his body and throw away the ashes,’’ he said.
Though foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama on Thursday dumped the blame of civilian deaths solely on the LTTE, the rebels again alleged that SLA shelling into NFZ killed at least 14 civilians taking shelter in a church.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Sri Lanka has caused “untold suffering” in its fight against the LTTE.
In another development, the UN office in Colombo today issued an urgent appeal for funds to meet the critical needs of an exodus of thousands of people who are fleeing fighting.