Civilians in Sri Lankan war zone in peril

April 9, 2009 at 1:13 AM
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, April 9 (UPI) -- Up to 190,000 civilians are in peril in the zone where the Sri Lankan army has the remnants of the Tamil Tigers trapped, the United Nations says.

The Sri Lankan military Wednesday made what Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara called a final announcement over loudspeakers to Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his remaining fighters, urging them to lay down their arms and surrender, Colombo Page said.

The army had halted fighting and was taking a wait-and-see approach, defense sources told the newspaper.

John Holmes, the United Nations' humanitarian chief, said Wednesday a full-scale, long-term cease-fire is unlikely between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam so a temporary lull must be arranged to get the civilians out of harms way, the U.N. News Center said.

"It is clear that the LTTE is refusing to let people flee, though many are managing to escape somehow, and I fear the combatants may be gearing up for a final confrontation," Holmes wrote in a piece for The Guardian.

"If the LTTE truly has the best interests of the Tamil people at heart, they should contribute to ending this unnecessary suffering of the civilian population.

"With so many people packed into such a small area, further military action not only risks more civilian deaths and injuries but also threatens to undermine the government's credibility with the international community and the national groups with whom it must soon seek reconciliation."

Colombo Page reported about 64,000 civilians have fled the northern area where the two opposing forces are massed.

Meanwhile, a local staff member of the International Committee of the Red Cross was killed by an artillery shell Wednesday, the organization said.

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