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Asia-pacific

Troops close in on Tigers as deadline expires

Video by Richard TOMPSETT

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-04-22

With the rebel Tamil Tigers ignoring the Sri Lankan government’s Tuesday morning deadline to surrender, a military offensive continues in the northeastern region amid mounting international concern over the humanitarian crisis on the ground.

A Sri Lankan government deadline for rebel Tamil Tigers to surrender, or face what it called a “final assault”, passed Tuesday with the military vowing to continue its offensive in the northeastern region of the island nation.

 

Amid mounting international concern over the humanitarian situation in the region, and calls for a brief halt in its latest assault, the Sri Lankan military said the operation would continue.

 

"The LTTE has not responded to the government's call to surrender, so we are keeping up our offensive to rescue the civilians," Sri Lankan military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara told the AFP shortly after the deadline expired.

 

On Monday, the Sri Lankan military gave the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), an ultimatum to surrender by noon local time on Tuesday (0630 GMT). The military says its troops are now poised to totally defeat the LTTE, a guerrilla group that has been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland on the ethnic Sinhalese-majority Buddhist island since the 1970s.

 

‘Civilians caught in the middle of the fighting’

 

The latest offensive has seen an exodus of tens of thousands of people who have been trapped in the Tiger’s last stronghold, raising international concerns over the humanitarian situation of the Tamil populace in the area.

 

International human rights monitors say the civilians are trapped in a narrow 14-square-kilometer coastal patch.

 

Speaking to FRANCE 24, Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the situation in the area was dire.

 

“Fourteen square kilometers is a very small area and there are tens of thousands of civilians still in there, civilians caught in the middle of the fighting,” said Ganguly.

 

The Sri Lankan government has declared the area a “no fire zone,” but Ganguly said the no-fire rule has not been respected by either side.

 

“The LTTE shot at people who attempted to escape from the no-fire zone,” said Ganguly, referring to Tiger rebels. “And the Sri Lankan military has shelled these areas.”

 

The Sri Lankan military has denied shelling civilians inside the rebel-held area. Tamil Tiger representatives however say the military has been shelling civilians

 

The Sri Lankan government has banned foreign reporters and international observers from the conflict zone, making it impossible to independently verify the claims of either side.

 

The crisis has sparked protests across the world, primarily among the Tamil community abroad. In Paris, French police arrested 210 people Monday when a rally by Tamils turned violent. In London, Tamil protesters have been demonstrating outside parliament in recent days.

 

 

 

Date created : 2009-04-21

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