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Page last updated at 12:29 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 13:29 UK

Colombo rejects UN civilian plea

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
We will continue with our mission to rescue civilians
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

Sri Lanka has rejected an appeal by the UN to allow aid agencies into the war zone in the north-east to help civilians affected by heavy fighting.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the BBC that such a move "would not be sensible at the moment".

Mr Rajapaksa's rejection came after a senior UN official urged Tamil rebels to lay down their arms so trapped people in the war zone can be helped.

The government says the rebels are now facing all-out defeat in the war.

"It's not a sensible thing at the moment. There is a civilian rescue operation going on in the area and allowing aid agencies inside the conflict zone is not matching with ground realities," Mr Rajapaksa said.

He said the UN and other aid agencies are welcome to assist tens of thousands of civilians who have already fled the war zone - and give assistance to the government in providing shelter and food to them.

The defence secretary - who is the brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa - said that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was already been working with the government to evacuate injured people from the conflict zone.

The government says that more than 100,000 civilians have escaped from the rebel-held area in the Mullaitivu district in the last few days. But it says that many remain trapped.

The Sri Lankan military says it has captured all the rebel strongholds in the region and have cornered the rebels into a small strip of coastal area - designated earlier by the government as a safe zone to protect civilians.

View satellite images showing area in northern Sri Lanka where refugees have gathered on the beach.

Earlier this week, security forces entered the no-fire zone and officials say troops are clawing their way into the remaining rebel-held area which is no bigger than 12 sq km (five square miles).

"We are going very slowly towards the south of the no-fire zone to rescue the remaining civilians. Our troops are not using heavy fire power, they are using only guns and personal weapons," Mr Rajapaksa said.

He said that he expected the operation to be over in the next three or four days and categorically denied rebel charges that hundreds of civilians have been killed by the army.

The UN and other Western nations - including the US and the UK - have been pressing for an immediate halt to the fighting to allow time for civilians to leave the war zone safely.

The Tamil Tigers have denied accusations that they are holding civilians as human shields.

Mr Rajapaksa, the most senior civilian official in charge of the war, also accused some Western nations of trying to stop an International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan for Sri Lanka because of pressure from the Tamil diaspora.

Sri Lanka has been holding talks with the IMF loan for a loan of about $2bn to help the country weather the global financial crisis and pay for post-war reconstruction.

The US embassy in Colombo has denied it has threatened to stop the loan - either publicly or privately.

MAP OF THE REGION
Sri Lanka map




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