Monday, March 2, 2009

No communication from India: Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka appears to have been caught unawares by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s call to Colombo to make use of the ‘ceasefire offer’ made by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to ensure safe passage of civilians from conflict zones.

Asked about Saturday’s statement of Mr. Mukherjee, Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohana told The Hindu, “We have not received any formal or informal communication from India on the subject. It would not be proper for me to comment on media reports.”

Dr. Kohana said Sri Lanka for several weeks now had been urging the Tigers to lay down arms and free civilians whom they continue to hold in Wanni. “Once they lay down arms, it would automatically lead to a ceasefire.”

Mr. Mukherjee’s call was based on a ceasefire offer by the Tigers in a letter to Sri Lanka Co-Chairs on February 23. While agreeing to cooperate with the international community for a ceasefire, the letter had argued that it would not be ‘helpful’ to pressure the Tigers to lay down arms.

The offer was rejected by Sri Lanka. On Saturday, Colombo welcomed the U.N. Special Envoy’s appeal to the world community to influence the Tigers to lay down arms.

The Foreign Ministry, in a statement, referred to the briefing given by the Under-Secretary-General of the U.N., Sir John Holmes, to the Security Council and maintained that the consensus at the Council was that the Tigers must lay down arms.

Last week Sir John Holmes visited Sri Lanka at President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s invitation for a first-hand assessment of the ground situation. Officials here maintained that his briefing to the Security Council did not result in a ceasefire call to Sri Lanka from the Security Council, but general agreement that the LTTE must lay down arms and ease suffering of civilians.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka Navy said it transported the sixth batch of civilians, including patients requiring immediate medical attention, to Trincomalee by the m.v. Green Ocean from Mullaithivu district.

A Defence Ministry statement said that from February 10, the Navy had assisted in rescuing of 1,907 civilians, including large number of patients, by the vessel. It said this was in addition to the large number of civilians rescued by the Navy sea units.

Source: The Hindu