Sri Lanka: UN urges Tamils to let civilians leave during cease-fire
The government stripped Norway of its peace-broker role after Tamil protesters attacked the Sri Lankan embassy in Oslo.
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As the Sri Lankan government began a two-day cease-fire with the Tamil Tiger rebels Monday, the UN urged the rebels – now cornered in a 5-1/2 square-mile zone – to allow civilians to leave the area. (Click here to see a map of the region.)
The United Nations says more than 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the conflict area, and last week warned of a "bloodbath" if they are not evacuated. The government says it has nearly wiped out the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a conventional military force, after a grueling, 14-month campaign that saw fierce trench warfare.
Xinhua and the Indo-Asian News Service reported that the cease-fire was mostly holding Monday, save for two rebel attacks. Rebels killed one soldier and wounded another in a mortar attack, and a rebel sniper also killed one soldier.
Bloomberg reported that the UN has demanded that civilians be allowed to leave the conflict zone during the two-day cease-fire.
Human Rights Watch recently called the "no-fire zone" "one of the most dangerous places in the world," and called on the Sri Lankan government to stop shelling the area. The group also blames the Tigers for using civilians as human shields, and says that since January, "more than 3,000 civilians are believed to have died in the fighting."
Sri Lanka is ethnically divided between majority Sinhalese (74 percent of the population) and Tamils (18 percent). The Tamils have been fighting for a separate Tamil state for 25 years, in one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies.
Meanwhile, Tamil activism is heating up worldwide. Agence France-Presse (AFP) also reported that some 300 pro-Tamil protesters had surrounded the Australian prime minister's residence on Monday.
AFP said that 100,000 people had joined a pro-Tamil march in London on Saturday, and that suspected Tamil activists had "stormed" the Sri Lankan embassy in Norway, "smashing windows and furniture inside the building."
The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, reports that Sri Lanka charged the Norwegian government with negligence in providing security to its embassy after the attack. Agence France-Presse reports that the Sri Lankan government Monday stripped Norway of its role as broker of the peace process between the two sides.
The Christian Science Monitor, reporting from Sri Lanka last month, said some are warning that the military campaign could complicate the search for a political solution to Tamil grievances.