Tamil rebels accuse Sri Lanka of bringing out big guns

Tamil separatist rebels on Tuesday accused the Sri Lankan military of breaking assurances that it would refrain from using heavy weaponry while about 50 000 civilians are trapped in the last area held by the rebels.

Both the military and Tamil rebels confirmed that fighting was continuing around the Mullaivikkal area, 390km north of Colombo, in a narrow coastal strip of about six square kilometres in the Mullaitivu district.

The government estimated that 20 000 civilians were trapped in the area, but the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at least 50 000 people remained in the conflict zone.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) accused the Sri Lanka Air Force and Army of continued use of heavy weapons, including airstrikes, despite government assurances that the military would not use combat aircraft or artillery.

The pro-rebel Tamilnet website said the army on Monday night fired cannon shells and used multibarrel rocket fire, a claim denied by the army, which said the halt of combat operations should not be “misinterpreted” as a ceasefire.

“It is a decision that signals the nearing victory of one of the world’s most successful battles against terrorism,” the Defence Ministry said.

Meanwhile, the army on Tuesday blew up an explosives-laden LTTE lorry trying to ram into government forces in the Valayanmadam area, where fighting is taking place, a military spokesperson said.

The incident took place after the army captured a rebel-held area and guerillas drove the lorry toward the troops at high speed, he said. Soldiers opened fire at the vehicle, causing it to explode, he said.

Troops also captured two fortified earthworks, one 600m long, put up by the rebels in the same area, the spokeperson said.

“The earth bunds were heavily mined, made to restrict both the flow of the remaining hostages and military advances,” a Defence Ministry official said, referring to civilians caught in the war zone, who, the government claimed, are being prevented from leaving by the LTTE.

Clearing of the area would allow easy access to the last rebel position, he said.

Military officials said they are in the final phase of crushing the LTTE, which has been fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil ethnic minority in northern and eastern Sri Lanka for more than 25 years.

In a related development, international aid was arriving to help about 170 000 civilians who fled the combat zones to government-controlled camps. About 113 000 people have fled the area since April 19.

India announced a grant of $20-million while Britain
pledged $3,6-million.

United Nations humanitarian chief Sir John Holmes said the UN would immediately release $10-million to a central relief fund in addition to $10-million authorised last week.

Holmes called for a pause in fighting to conduct a humanitarian assessment of the conflict zone and to deliver emergency food and medication, a UN statement said.

He also underscored the need for the UN to get full access to civilians, a demand so far denied by the Sri Lankan government, and the release of 13 UN staff members who have been confined to the camps.

A UN plane carrying relief supplies arrived in Colombo on Monday and a second plane was expected on Tuesday.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner were due to arrive in Sri Lanka on Wednesday to discuss humanitarian concerns.

A Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry spokesperson claimed on Tuesday that it had not denied a visa to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt but instead had informed him that he could visit the country in May.

Bildt was quoted on Tuesday as saying he had to cancel a planned trip to Sri Lanka with his British and French counterparts after the government in Colombo said it would not receive him.—Sapa-dpa

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