- civil war - refugees - Sri Lanka - Tamil Tigers
AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her British counterpart David Miliband called Tuesday on Sri Lankans to stop fighting immediately and allow trapped civilians to escape the conflict.
Their joint appeal was the latest in a series of so far futile international calls aimed at ending the fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatist guerrillas, holed up on a coastal strip in the island's northeast.
"Secretary Clinton and UK Foreign Secretary Miliband expressed their profound concern about the humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka caused by the ongoing hostilities," said a statement issued after their meeting.
"They expressed alarm at the large number of reported civilian casualties over the past several days in the designated 'safe zone,'" along the coastal strip, it added.
"Secretary Clinton and Foreign Secretary Miliband call on all sides to end hostilities immediately and allow for the safe evacuation of the tens of thousands of civilians trapped within the safe zone," it said.
The two chief diplomats also called "for a political solution that reconciles all Sri Lankans, and establishes a meaningful role for Tamil and other minorities in national political life," the statement said.
The pair urged the warring sides to allow a UN humanitarian team to visit the conflict zone and help evacuate the civilians as well as allow food and medical aid to reach those trapped by the fighting.
Miliband joined Clinton for talks here after discussing the war in Sri Lanka at UN headquarters in New York.
Miliband and his counterparts Bernard Kouchner of France and Michael Spindelegger of Austria issued an appeal Monday in New York that called on the UN Security Council to address the "appalling" crisis in Sri Lanka.
The three spoke after attending an informal meeting between eight Security Council members and officials from the world body and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the situation in the no-fire zone of eastern Sri Lanka.
But the Sri Lanka issue was not on the agenda of the 15-member council as some powerful members, notably China and Russia, are opposed.
Earlier Monday, the United Nations called for an immediate end to Sri Lanka's fighting after describing the weekend shelling of civilians as a "bloodbath" in which over 100 children were killed.
Artillery strikes on the small stretch of coastline still held by the Tamil Tigers in the northeast of the island nation have caused major casualties among the tens of thousands of non-combatants, both sides reported.
During a visit to Sri Lanka late last month, Miliband and Kouchner urged the government to stop the fighting with the Tamil Tigers and allow humanitarian access to the conflict zone.
The Colombo government estimates that up to 20,000 civilians are being held in the less than five-square-kilometer (two-square-mile) area where the rebels are holed up.
The United Nations has said as many as 50,000 may be trapped there.