Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the suffering undergone by the Tamil civilians in the island's No Fore Zone (NFZ) in the north is the sole responsibility of Tamil Tiger rebels that were holding them as a human shield, the president office said Friday in a statement.
According to the statement, Rajapakse who was on a state visit in Libya made the remarks to Ban in a telephone conversation on Thursday.
The two leaders discussed the prevailing humanitarian situation regarding Tamil civilians trapped in the NFZ and Ban expressed his concern about the thousands of civilian trapped there, said the statement.
Rajapakse while expressed understanding of the secretary-general's deep preoccupation with the fate and condition of the civilians, told him that all of the suffering of the civilians was due to the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) continuing to hold them hostage and as human shields, ignoring the many calls by the UN and humanitarian organizations to free them.
The president assured Ban that Sri Lanka was aware of and observes all international obligations to protect civilians, and repeated his call on the UN and all interested parties to bring increased pressure on the LTTE to give the people the freedom to leave the affected area.
"The UN secretary-general and the Sri Lankan president agreed to continue working together in the coming days for the interests of the affected civilians in the north of Sri Lanka," said the statement.
According to a press release issued by the United Nations, Ban in his telephone conversation had reminded "all concerned of their obligations to do all they can to protect civilians, and stresses that civilians should be allowed to leave the affected areas."
UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes reiterated his call on Wednesday for a temporary halt in fighting between the government and the LTTE to assist the innocents, warning that "a bloodbath on the beaches of northern Sri Lanka seems an increasingly real possibility."
The Sri Lankan military has pushed the rebels into an area so small that any shooting or shelling will unavoidably cause casualties among the 150,000 to 190,000 civilians trapped in the NFZ, John Holmes wrote in an opinion piece in a newspaper.
The military in Sri Lanka said Friday that the troops have "almost swept away all terrorists strongholds in the northern anterior of the 12 km long NFZ demarcated for the civilians and now limited their mop up operations to the southern anterior."
They said the troops have identified the best accessible routes for the civilians to come out of the NFZ and established rescue points as near as 150 meters short of the LTTE built positions on the NFZ border.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), unconfirmed reports suggest that hundreds of civilians were injured on Wednesday and Thursday alone in the 14-sq-km NFZ.
The OCHA said in the past five months over 60,000 people have fled the LTTE controlled Vanni region to Vavuniya, where they were sheltered in overcrowded camps.
The OCHA said civilians trapped in the NFZ lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities, and medical supplies are urgently needed.
The military say the LTTE's rebellion against the government is coming to an end as they have lost almost all their 15,000 sq-km territory in a relentless military offensive initiated by the Rajapakse government in 2006.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the mid-1980s when the LTTE began to rebel against the government militarily based on claims that the minority Tamils were being discriminated in the Indian Ocean island.