After a standoff between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels in north-eastern Sri Lanka, the country's presidency announced combat operations had "reached their conclusion" and that efforts would now be confined to civilian rescue.
AFP - The Sri Lankan government announced Monday it was halting the use of heavy weapons and combat aircraft in order to prevent civilian casualties in the battle against Tamil Tiger rebels.
President Mahinda Rajapakse's office said in a statement that the government had "decided that combat operations have reached their conclusion," although military operations were continuing.
"Our security forces have been instructed to end the use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties," the statement said.
The Sri Lankan government says its forces have cornered the Tamil Tigers in a small strip of coastal territory in the northeast, but it has come under international pressure amid reports of large numbers of civilian deaths.
"Our security forces will confine their attempts to rescuing civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving civilians," the statement said.
A government official added that ground operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were continuing.
"This is not the end to the military operation, nor is it a ceasefire," the official said.
The latest government announcement came as the top UN humanitarian official John Holmes was visiting the island with a plea to both the administration and the Tamil Tigers to spare civilians trapped in the war zone.
Some 110,000 civilians escaped from the rebel-held sliver of territory on the island's northeastern coast last week following a major military push.
The United Nations estimates that some 50,000 non-combatants are still trapped in the conflict area, while the government maintains that the number is less than 20,000.
Date created : 2009-04-26