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Tigers 'infiltrating' media, aid organisations: SL

world Updated: Feb 07, 2009 13:27 IST
AFP
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Sri Lanka's top defence official has accused international media and aid organisations of siding with the Tamil Tigers, a report said on Saturday, as the military pushed its offensive against the rebels.

A day after an angry mob stoned the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombo, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse said the Tigers were infiltrating relief agencies and news organisations.

"There is a well-orchestrated campaign to discredit the government and the security forces and bring pressure on it to declare a ceasefire by LTTE agents who have infiltrated international organisations and media institutions," Rajapakse told the state-run Daily News.

Colombo has rejected calls from foreign governments and agencies to halt its offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to avoid civilian casualties, saying it is on the verge of victory.

Sri Lanka has also resisted calls for a "no fire period" to allow civilians to get out of the conflict zone, while rights groups and foreign governments have accused the Tigers of holding civilians as a human shield.

Rajapakse said people allegedly in the pay of the Tigers were "fabricating stories to invent a scenario of a human catastrophe and are disseminating false information."

The defence secretary is leading the government's crackdown against the Tigers, who lost their mini state last month in the face of a military offensive that has pushed the rebels back to a narrow strip of land.

His comments came after he threatened to expel aid agencies, diplomats and foreign journalists seen as supportive of the LTTE.

UN agencies have said there are 250,000 civilians trapped by the ongoing fighting in the northeast of the island, but Rajapakse, who is the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, said there were fewer than 100,000.

Military officials have said some 7,500 civilians have crossed over to the safety of government-held areas this year.

Rajapakse's remarks came a day after a stone-throwing mob attacked the office of the ICRC in Sri Lanka's capital, as Colombo accused the agency of inciting panic over civilian deaths from the fighting.

Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said the ICRC had placed an order for 35,000 body bags to be used in the northeast.

ICRC spokeswoman Sophie Romanens confirmed an order for body bags but rejected the figure provided by Rambukwella.

"We help in the transfer of bodies of combatants across the front lines and for this we need body bags, but the number we have ordered is far, far less than 35,000," she said.

The ICRC has a presence in Sri Lanka's embattled northeast and has also acted as a neutral intermediary in transporting the remains of combatants across front lines.

Those front lines were moving rapidly on Friday with the military taking more bases from the Tamil Tigers, who have been pushed back into a narrow patch of coastal jungle in Mullaittivu.

Military officials said ground troops had stepped up attacks against remaining Tiger lines of resistance and carried out more air strikes on Friday evening.

In one bombing raid at least 11 guerrillas, including a senior leader, were killed, air force spokesman Janaka Nanayakkara said.

There was no immediate comment from the Tigers, but the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website said the guerrillas had launched several counter attacks in the Mullaittivu district this week and seized weapons from troops.

The rebels said they had killed more than 100 government troops in a week of heavy fighting, but did not give their own losses.

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