Sri Lanka’s military will not attack the Tamil Tigers for the next three days to allow thousands of civilians to escape a no-fire zone where they are being held by the separatists, the president said yesterday.
Soldiers have encircled the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a 17km² no-fire zone on the northeast coast and are close to crushing them as a conventional force and ending Asia’s longest-running civil war.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a statement that people should be “given uninhibited freedom of movement from the no-fire zone” in the Sinhala and Tamil New Year period which goes through tomorrow.
“With this objective in view, His Excellency has directed the armed forces of the state to restrict their operations during the New Year to those of a defensive nature,” the president’s office said.
There was no immediate comment from the LTTE, whose agreement to let the people go is essential. The UN and witnesses say people are being kept as human shields and forced conscripts or being shot as they try to flee.
The LTTE so far has refused any diplomatic entreaties to get them to release people, whom they insist are staying by choice.
Diplomats have been working furiously to negotiate an exit strategy for the people, who number 60,000 according to the government and about 100,000, according to the UN.
“In the true spirit of the season, it is timely for the LTTE to acknowledge its military defeat and lay down its weapons and surrender. The LTTE must also renounce terrorism and violence permanently,” the statement said.
The Tigers have vowed not to give up their fight for a separate nation for Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority, which has engulfed the Indian Ocean island nation in a civil war that has killed at least 70,000 since 1983.
In the latest of a series of international demonstrations over the war, around 100,000 people marched through London on Saturday to demand a ceasefire between Sri Lankan forces and the Tigers.
The march through central London, organized by a British Tamil group, was the biggest yet in a week of demonstrations by Tamils and their supporters in various cities.