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Monday, February 2, 2009
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Aid groups, diplomats warned in Lanka

Threatened to be expelled over Tiger sympathy; troops capture 2 LTTE bombers' camps

Sri Lanka's top defence official has threatened to expel aid agencies, diplomats and foreign journalists seen as supportive of Tamil rebels cornered by troops in the island's north, a report said Sunday.

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse told the Sunday Island that there would be "dire consequences" for any foreign non-governmental organisation, diplomat or correspondent attempting to give "terrorists a second breath of life."

"They will be chased away (if they try) to give a second wind to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) terrorists at a time the security forces, at heavy cost, are dealing them the final blow," Rajapakse was quoted as saying.

Rajapakse is leading the government's crackdown against the Tigers who lost their mini state last month in the face of a military offensive that has pushed the rebels back to a narrow strip of land.

"Rajapakse did not mince his words when he said that some ambassadors, specially the German and Swiss ambassadors, and some news agencies were behaving irresponsibly," the newspaper said.

German ambassador Jurgen Weerth was recently summoned by the foreign ministry over remarks he made at the funeral of a newspaper editor and outspoken government critic who was killed by unidentified gunmen.

Rajapakse accused CNN, Al-Jazeera and the BBC of trying to sensationalise civilian hardships by broadcasting video clips from LTTE websites, the paper said.

The government maintains that it has a policy of "zero civilian casualties" and accuses the Tamil Tigers of using tens of thousands of men, women and children as a human shield.

The government does not allow independent media free access to the island's conflict zone.

The UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross have been joined by overseas governments as well as local and foreign rights groups in demanding safe passage for the civilians trapped by the fighting.

The UN has asked the Tigers to allow civilians to leave the small strip of jungle area where they have been boxed in by the military offensive. The ICRC has said "hundreds" of civilians were killed in heavy fighting last month.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's military captured two camps used by the Tamil Tigers' suicide squad, killing 12 rebels and seizing a large number of weapons, officials said Sunday amid mounting concern for civilians trapped in the war zone.

According to the Red Cross, some 250,000 noncombatants are trapped in the 300-square kilometre area near Mullaittivu where advancing government troops have boxed in the separatist Tamil rebels. The government puts the number at about 120,000.

"The humanitarian situation is precarious if not critical," Red Cross spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne told The Associated Press. "We have appealed to both parties to allow safe passage for the sick and wounded so that they can get medical treatment," she said.

India's large Tamil population is demanding that New Delhi ensure the safety of 250,000 of their brethren boxed into the battle zone in Sri Lanka's north.

Protesters have poured into the streets in Tamil Nadu state, home to 62 million Indian Tamils, in the past week to call for a ceasefire in the conflict and assurances about the safety of their fellow Tamils in the island nation.

"Our prime concern is the safety of the Tamils," in Sri Lanka, said K. Anbazhagan, a senior leader of Tamil Nadu's ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) party and state finance minister.

Indian Tamils have dubbed the conflict a "race war" between Sri Lanka's minority Tamils and the majority Sinhalese community in the tropical island, which is separated by sea from Tamil Nadu state.

The issue is a highly sensitive one in India as Sri Lanka's Tamils share close cultural and religious links with the Tamils in Tamil Nadu, which is also home to thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.

The DMK has been spearheading the campaign to ensure the estimated 250,000 Tamil civilians trapped in the war zone are protected and is pushing for a ceasefire.

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