British, French FMs arrive in Sri Lanka

29th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

British and French foreign ministers have arrived and are hoping to negotiate a humanitarian cease fire.

COLOMBO – The foreign ministers of Britain and France, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, arrived Wednesday in Sri Lanka, officials said, looking to negotiate a humanitarian ceasefire in the island's civil war.

Amid mounting international concern about the plight of civilians caught up in the fighting between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels, the ministers were to meet their Sri Lankan counterpart Rohita Bogollagama.

They were to "reiterate the international community's calls for a ceasefire, respect for international humanitarian law and protection of civilians," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

On the eve of the visit, Sri Lankan authorities announced they had denied Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt a visa to join the peace mission -- prompting a diplomatic spat with the European Union.

A Sri Lankan foreign ministry official indicated that Colombo felt it had already done enough by letting in Miliband and Kouchner, who also want to see the government lift a ban on foreign aid staff working in the war-torn north.

After months of heavy fighting, the Tamil Tigers have now been confined to a tiny strip of coastal jungle in the northeast and are said by the military to be down to their last few hundred fighters.

The island's government has for months blocked most aid agencies from working in the north and has herded escaping civilians into overcrowded camps that are guarded by the military.

Aid workers who have visited the camps have testified to food shortages, woeful sanitation, a desperate medical situation and chronic overcrowding.

The United Nations estimates that 50,000 non-combatants are trapped in the conflict area.

A UN document circulated among diplomats in Colombo last week said as many as 6,500 civilians may have been killed and another 14,000 wounded in the government's offensive so far this year.

AFP / Expatica

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