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Rajapaksa's deadline expires amid fears of rising casualties

The 48-hour deadline served by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the LTTE on Thursday to allow the displaced to move to safer areas expired on Friday amid fears of rising civilian casualties, reports Sutirtho Patranobis.

world Updated: Feb 01, 2009 10:01 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

The 48-hour deadline served by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the LTTE on Thursday to allow the displaced to move to safer areas expired on Friday amid fears of rising civilian casualties.

The LTTE did not respond to the deadline, calling it a ``deception.'' The Lankan government too kept quiet about the LTTE's call on an ``internationally mooted ceasefire.''

The Sri Lankan armed forces are expected to push into LTTE's last bastion, the north-eastern district of Mullaitivu, with greater force after the deadline expires. The government had categorically said on Friday that it ``would continue to eradicate terrorism.''

Worried about the condition about the tens of thousands trapped civilians in Mullaitivu, UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Friday appealed to the military and Tamil rebels to ensure safe passage for civilians.

``The Secretary General calls upon the (rebel) Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in particular, to allow civilians in the conflict zone to move to where they feel most secure, including (government-controlled) areas,'' Ban's press office said in a statement. .

He also urged the Colombo government ``to ensure that those civilians arriving from the Wanni and other conflict areas are treated in accordance with international standards,'' including guaranteeing their freedom of movement and allowing full access by humanitarian agencies.

The UN chief boss said he remained concerned about the fate of civilians, including tens of thousands of children, despite Rajapakse's announcement of safe passage for them.

He called on both Colombo and the LTTE ``to do all in their power to make this safe passage a reality, and to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.''

The pro-LTTE website, TamilNet, meanwhile, claimed only 26 civilians had crossed through Oamanthai into Sri Lankan government controlled area in the last two days.

``The Internally Displaced People in Vanni have expressed fear that many hundreds of civilians are going to perish within the next few hours as a Sri Lankan military official in Colombo said the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) would go on an `all out operation' to `eliminate the remaining Tigers' after the lapse of 48-hour ultimatum, the website said.

It further claimed that at least 30 civilians were killed and many more injured in SLA shelling since Friday.

The military, meanwhile, claimed to have seized long-range artillery guns belonging to the LTTE from the Visuamadu area in Mullaitivu.