The exodus has reached enormous levels. Over one lakh Tamil civilians have fled the LTTE-held ‘no fire zone’ (NFZ) in the last two days amid intense fighting between the remaining rebel cadres and the Sri Lankan army (SLA).
More than 35 LTTE cadres were killed in fighting and several more were injured on Wednesday, the military said.
India is preparing to send a ship carrying 40,000 family packs of rice, dal, clothes and toiletries for the civilians who have emerged from the war zone.
The ship, which will sail from Chennai, is bound for Colombo, where the material will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for distribution.
It’s not clear when exactly India will receive a Sri Lankan special envoy, possibly Basil Rajapaksa, for talks. As of now, there is some satisfaction in Delhi that one lakh civilians have made their way to safety.
In Kolkata, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India had all sympathy for civilians trapped in the conflict, but none for the terrorists.
“It is not true that the Sri Lankan authorities were not responding to our appeal (for a pause in military operations),” he said. “There are conflicting signals about the exact number of civilians still trapped in the conflict zone,” Mukherjee said.
A narrow strip of 12 sq km remains to be captured by the army in the safe zone, Defence spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella said on Wednesday. The length of the strip is now about 8 km while the width varies between 1 km and 2 km.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Wednesday that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has spurned the possibility of pardon. “By not giving up arms and surrendering as required, he must now face the consequences.”
Two second-rung LTTE leaders have surrendered to the SLA, a day after the deadline given by the government expired. They were identified as LTTE’s former media coordinator Velayutham Dayanithi alias Daya Master and V.K. Pancharatnam, also known as ‘George’, English translator to the late LTTE political wing head S. Thamilselvan.
“They surrendered to the troops at Puthumathalan NFZ,” military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told reporters.
The LTTE alleged that SLA had stepped up artillery and mortar barrage on the NFZ killing and maiming civilians who have sought refuge at several locations. One of the injured was Father James Pathinathar, a Catholic priest injured in SLA shelling that hit a Church in Valaignarmadam on Wednesday noon, the rebels said, adding that SLA shelling on Tuesday had killed a doctor and seven persons including medical staff at a makeshift medical centre in the same area.
Meanwhile, France has proposed carrying out a joint relief operation with Britain to help civilians. “We will try to launch an operation,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an interview, adding he would discuss the plan with his British counterpart David Miliband.
China has come out strongly in support of the Lankan government’s efforts to defeat the LTTE and capture Prabhakaran. China supports the efforts of Lanka to safeguard national integrity while ensuring security and political stability, said Jian Yu, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, said in Beijing on Tuesday.