The SRI Lankan army (SLA) continued to push into the LTTE-dominated “no fire zone” (NFZ) on Tuesday as Tamil militants vowed never to surrender and held Colombo responsible for civilian casualties.
By evening, more than 62,000 civilians had crossed over to government-controlled areas. Television footage showed emaciated and tired men, women and children walking towards military-controlled areas with little or no belongings.
At noon on Tuesday, the 24-hour deadline given by the government to the LTTE to surrender expired without the Tamil Tigers showing any signs of responding.
Within hours of the deadline expiring, the LTTE leader S. Pulveedan told Reuters, “LTTE will never surrender and we will fight and we have the confidence that we will win with the help of the Tamil people.”
“He (Prabhakaran) is with us and he is directing the war against the Sri Lankan armed forces and providing a lot of support and assistance to the people,’’ Puleedevan said.
“The LTTE has not responded to the government’s call to surrender, so we will continue our offensive to rescue the civilians,’’ military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told reporters.
LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran was inside the NFZ, a top Tiger leader was quoted as saying. The rebels continued to put stiff resistance from the NFZ with skirmishes reported from across its 12 km-long border.
A Sri Lankan official, meanwhile, said that Colombo was preparing to send a special envoy to New Delhi to address India’s demand that Sri Lanka halt military operations.
In a second media statement, Puleedevan claimed that SLA troops were using civilians who were sandwiched between the army and the LTTE as “human shields.”
The LTTE further alleged that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed and at least 2,300 were wounded since Monday.
Amid rapid internal developments, Colombo continued to resist international appeals for a ceasefire with President Mahinda Rajapaksa snubbing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“The request by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for a pause in military action was deemed as unnecessary by President Mahinda Rajapaksa considering the unexpected exodus of 35,000 civilians to the cleared areas from the NFZ,’’ a statement from the Presidential secretariat said.
According to the UN, the figure of civilians in the NFZ would be more than 60,000.
The US on Tuesday expressed its deep concern over humanitarian situation in the conflict zone. Aid agencies like the International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) issued a warning.
“The ICRC is extremely worried about tens of thousands of civilians who are trapped in the rapidly shrinking NFZ,” it said.