M A I N   N E W S

Tigers defy ultimatum
Civilians flee war zone
Red Cross warns of catastrophe

Colombo, April 21
Hours after Sri Lankan soldiers resumed their offensive against the last bastion of the Tamil Tigers, the banned outfit announced its resolve to fight on. The government reported an exodus of people deserting the No-Fire-Zone and put the figure at 52,000.

“LTTE will never surrender and we will fight and we have the confidence that we will win with the help of the Tamil people,” Shivaratnam Puleedevan, secretary general of the LTTE peace secretariat told Reuters over telephone.

The military offensive against LTTE gathered speed after the 24-hour deadline for the LTTE to surrender passed without any word from the Tigers, in what appears to be the final act in Asia’s longest-running war.

Puleedevan claimed the 54 year-old LTTE chief V Prabhakaran was directing the fight in what the army had set up as a no-fire zone but is now possibly the last battleground. Men women and children, some sick and some too old to even walk, fled the LTTE held area with whatever they could carry. Most carried a small bag, perhaps their sole belonging.

The state-run Daily News described the process a ‘human avalanche’ while the independent Daily Mirror called it a ‘great escape’. The army had claimed to have ‘rescued’ 31,000 people yesterday.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told newsmen that people ‘held hostage by the LTTE in a small strip of coastal land’ continue to arrive in the government-held areas in large numbers.

The LTTE peace secretariat urged for a permanent ceasefire and accused the government of killing one thousand people and wounding thousands more by shelling. The government denied the charge and accused the Tigers of creating a humanitarian crisis to build international pressure for a ceasefire to try and re-arm , as they have done in the past.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in Geneva that at least 50,000 people still remain inside the one-time no-fire zone. The operation could lead to a drastic increase in the number of casualties and the situation is nothing short of catastrophic, it added. — Agencies

Ashok Tuteja adds from New Delhi: India is closely monitoring the situation in Sri Lanka and Indian envoy Alok Prasad has been briefing officials at the Ministry of External Affairs. The Sri Lankan offensive has become a major emotive issue in Tamil Nadu, where the DMK, one of the UPA constituents, is engaged in a tough contest with the AIADMK in the Lok Sabha elections.

The general feeling in Tamil Nadu is that India has not done enough to stop the ongoing war in Sri Lanka, where thousands of Tamil civilians have been rendered homeless due to the conflict. While the AIADMK is trying to exploit the sentiment to its advantage, the UPA regime is under renewed pressure from TN Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi to issue an ultimatum to Sri Lanka for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire” in its military offensive against the LTTE.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, has said that New Delhi considers LTTE as a terrorist organisation and its leader V Prabhakaran remains a proclaimed offender. He said the situation remains unchanged as far as the government is concerned.

Jaya alleges genocide

Alleging that the Sri Lankan army was massacring the Tamil population in the war zone, AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa on Tuesday asked M Karunanidhi to “act like a Chief Minister and insist with the Centre to save the remaining Tamils”. She charged the island military with murdering Tamils who were trying to escape from the war zone and reports clearly show that a genocide of Tamil race was taking place.

Karuna’s SOS to PM

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi asked the Centre to issue an ultimatum to Colombo to declare an “immediate and permanent ceasefire.” In telegrams sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, he said the “war situation in Sri Lanka is alarming and the predicament of the Tamils very critical.”



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