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UN rushes envoy to Colombo as Govt refuses to halt operations

With worries mounting over the fate of thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in the conflict zone in Sri Lanka's north, the UN today dispatched its top humanitarian official to Colombo, which maintained that it will not give in to global pressure to declare a ceasefire.

world Updated: Apr 25, 2009 21:26 IST
TV Sriram

With worries mounting over the fate of thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in the conflict zone in Sri Lanka's north, the UN on Saturday dispatched its top humanitarian official to Colombo, which maintained that it will not give in to global pressure to declare a ceasefire.

UN humanitarian chief John Holmes rushed to the Island nation today to press for access to international agencies to undertake urgent relief work in the war-ravaged areas, even as LTTE claimed that 1.65 lakh Tamils were facing starvation in the No Fire Zone, a charge termed as "absurd" by Colombo.

"The top priority remains the preservation of the lives of the tens of thousands of civilians still trapped inside the combat zone," Holmes said in a statement released ahead of his arrival here.

Holmes' visit coincides with a US call for an immediate halt to the military conflict, saying that Sri Lanka's unity and reconciliation could be at stake if it continued with its current endeavours to end the ethnic conflict "militarily".

Holmes will meet authorities to discuss urgent issues, including the need for the Government to help humanitarian agencies access the conflict area, as well as the situation of camps set up for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said the government will not give in to various pressures exerted on it to stop the "humanitarian operation" or declare a ceasefire.

The military operation "will go on till the last civilian is freed from LTTE clutches," Rajapaksa was quoted as saying by the state-run Daily news.

On the visit of Indian National Security Advisor MK Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon to Sri Lanka, the Defence Secretary said it was "another instance of high-level cordial discussions between the two countries".

He claimed that there was no call from the Indian delegation for a ceasefire in the country's north.

Sri Lanka also dismissed the LTTE's claim of 1.65 lakh Tamils still in its areas as "absurd and misleading" and said about 1.94 lakh civilians have crossed over to the government held areas since January this year.

Faced with defeat in the nearly three decade old conflict, LTTE said that nearly 165,000 civilians in the areas controlled by it were close to starvation and accused the government of blocking food and humanitarian supplies to the area.

Earlier, the US told Sri Lanka and LTTE to immediately end the war in the island's north.

The White House, in its first statement on the Sri Lankan conflict after President Barack Obama assumed office on January 20, said it was taking "very seriously" the allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by both sides.