UN tells Tamil Tigers to surrender

“We demand that the LTTE immediately lay down arms, renounce terrorism, allow a UN-assisted evacuation of the remaining civilians in the conflict area, and join the political process,” said Claude Heller, speaking after an informal Security Council meeting.

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The council president, speaking on behalf of the 15 members, said they “strongly condemned the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a terrorist organisation, for the use of civilians as human shields and for not allowing them to leave the area.”

He said that council members also insisted that the Sri Lankan government abide by international humanitarian law on allowing aid access to refugees.

The meeting was not a formal session of the Security Council and the president\’s statements were non-binding.

The Tamil Tigers are fighting to stave off defeat by Sri Lankan government troops after being pushed into a narrow stretch of coastal jungle. Thousands of civilians are trapped in the war zone with them.

\’Terrible humanitarian tragedy\’

The Tigers, who have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1972, have acknowledged losing ground and have accused the government of killing 1,000 civilians in recent days.

However they have come under accusation themselves of deliberately trapping civilians as human shields.

Independent journalists and humanitarian aid workers are not allowed at the front lines, making verification of the claims difficult.

In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress: “This is such a terrible humanitarian tragedy… We have been pressing the Sri Lankan government for a halt in the fighting so that we could secure a safe passage for as many of the trapped civilians as possible.

“I think that the Sri Lankan government knows that the entire world is very disappointed, that in its efforts to end what it sees as 25 years of conflict, it is causing such untold suffering.”

She stressed: “We have made it clear that, as soon as there is some lull in the fighting or an end to the fighting, that there has to be not only massive humanitarian aid, but a political resolution.”

But she also criticised the Tigers, saying: “There seems to be very little openness on the part of the Tamil Tiger leadership to cease their efforts so that we could try to get in and help the people.”

Civilians \’used as human shields\’

The US is already “beginning intensive post-conflict planning”, she said.

At the United Nations, British ambassador John Sawers said after council talks that the Tigers should “stop using civilians as human shields” and “allow a UN-assisted evacuation”.

He added that the Sri Lankan authorities must “abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law to take the steps necessary to save civilian lives and to allow international monitors”.

“The situation would be vastly better if there were a pause in the fighting,” he said.

Sawers\’ US counterpart, Susan Rice, called the situation “dire” and said it was “absolutely imperative that both sides cease the fighting and the heavy shelling”.

“We\’re frankly appalled by the fact that many who have been able to leave are unable to receive life-saving… assistance,” she said.

“The fact that both sides have been shooting at civilians as they leave these safe zones… (is a) gross violation of international humanitarian law.”