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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > International Frame & the Tamil Eelam Struggle for Freedom > No-one in the international community has been calling for a ceasefire or to stop firing to save Prabhakaran - UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband
TAMIL EELAM STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM
British and French foreign ministers in Sri Lanka have urged the government to halt its military offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels in the north. UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the call was not aimed at saving the Tamil rebel leader but the lives of thousands of civilians trapped. Correspondents say the government is unlikely to agree to a truce. It has previously rejected similar calls and its relations with European countries have been tense.
The Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, had been due to accompany his European colleagues on the visit, but was refused entry by the Sri Lankan government. The European Union has strongly criticised the refusal.
"No-one in the international community has been calling for a ceasefire or to stop firing to save [Tiger leader Vellupillai] Prabhakaran. The calls have come because of the overwhelming concern with the wellbeing of the civilians," Mr Miliband said. "Now is the time for the fighting to stop. Sri Lanka's military advances have been spectacular, but winning the peace is as vital as winning the war."
His sentiments were echoed by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said that civilians in the north were "hostages of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)".
Mr Kouchner said that he and Mr Miliband had "insisted and insisted" on a ceasefire, but so far their request had not been met with a positive response from the government.
The two ministers are on a one-day trip to Sri Lanka and have met top officials - including President Rajapaksa - in addition to visiting a camp for 60,000 displaced people in the north.
The BBC's Charles Haviland accompanied the ministers who talked to as many refugees as they could. Our correspondent says that Mr Miliband met one family who had been displaced 10 times and another man who said that the Tamil Tigers had tried to stop them leaving the conflict zone by shooting at them.
Two women also told the British foreign minister that the authorities running the camp had split their husband and son from them in a screening process but given them no information on where they were.
Others complained that conditions in the camp were very basic and sanitation poor.
The Sri Lankan military has restricted Tamil Tiger rebels to a 12 sq km (5 sq miles) area of land in the north of the islands and believes it is close to defeating them.
The government is cautious over foreign efforts to mediate in the war Tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped in the area, and the EU and the UN have urged Sri Lanka to observe a pause in its campaign to let them out. The government says a halt would serve no purpose.
Diplomatic efforts to bring more help for the civilians in the war zone have so far made little progress. Thousands of Tamil people who have fled recent fighting now live in camps known as "welfare villages" in the north under quite stringent government control.
A joint visit like this is unusual, our correspondent says. Rebel sympathisers on Wednesday again accused the air force of bombing civilians in the small strip of land still controlled by the Tigers. They said that heavy shelling damaged the only make-shift hospital within the government's "no fire zone".
Lanka on UK Foreign Minister Miliband
Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent, Times Online, 30 March 2009
Sri Lanka has published details of an apparently heated exchange between its Defence Secretary and David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, about the safety of civilians in the area held by the Tamil Tigers.
Mr Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, his French counterpart, were in Sri Lanka yesterday to urge the Government to call a ceasefire in the war against the Tamil rebels, to allow humanitarian access to tens of thousands of civilians on the front line.
They admitted last night that they had failed in their mission after meeting the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his Defence Secretary, who is also his brother and the man overseeing the drive to defeat the Tigers after 26 years of civil war.
Details of their conversation with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary, emerged this morning in a Sri Lankan newspaper and on the website of the Defence Ministry . The report said that Mr Miliband interrupted the Defence Secretary as he was describing how the army had rescued 200,000 civilians from the tiny strip of northeastern coastline where it has pinned down the Tigers.
Mr Miliband said that Britain had credible information that civilians were being harmed in the army’s artillery raids on the area — now covering only 3.8sq miles — in which the United Nations estimates there are still 50,000 non-combatants.
The Defence Secretary — who is also a US citizen — said that Britain should not be “duped” by a disinformation campaign masterminded by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), as the Tigers are officially known.
“Even BBC is dishing out LTTE propaganda material without verification,” he was quoted as telling Mr Miliband.
Mr Miliband responded that his claim was not based on BBC reports but on credible information from sources on the front line.
“Apparently annoyed, the Defence Secretary said anyone who knew the LTTE would not believe that any reliable information would emanate from that area under its jackboot,” the report said.
The Defence Secretary had added that it was up to the British delegation to decide whether it should believe what a terrorist group said or what a responsible officer of a legitimate government told them, according to the report.
“The choice is yours,” Mr Rajapaksa was quoted as saying.