No requests made to visit ‘safe zone’ - Rambukwella

Defence Spokesman and Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday said no foreign government or organisation had made any request to the government for permission to visit the Safe Zone where, according to the US State Department, more than 140,000 of civilians are trapped.

US State Department yesterday said it has called upon the Sri Lanka Government and the LTTE to immediately cease hostilities until those in the conflict area are out.

It further said that the US calls upon the Sri Lanka to assist its Tamil citizens by halting shelling of the Safe Zone, permitting international monitors to ensure the safe exit of the civilians.

The Government of Sri Lanka should also enforce international humanitarian standards in IDP camps, grant visas to international aid groups and permit entry to Sri Lanka, it said.

"The Government is very much aware of the situation and it is doing its best to evacuate all those trapped in this area where nearly 70,000 civilians who fled fro the clutches of the LTTE have been housed in welfare centres in government controlled areas,"Rambukwella said.

The actual figure of civilians trapped in the Safe Zone is not 140,000 and it is only about 50,000 he said adding that it is the LTTE who is shelling the civilians who are trying to escape from their clutches, the Minister said.

"However the international community, for reason’s best known to themselves, is depending on the exaggerated figures issued by the LTTE which is trying to gain the sympathy of the former and get them to urge the government to halt the offensive against the terrorist group," he said

Rambukwella said "Ours is a sovereign nation and whatever request made must fall within the structure and parameters laid down by the government. Then we will consider their request."

The LTTE is still holding back the US staff members in their custody and those who are making these requests should consider whether it is safe for themselves to visit those areas, he said.

Rambukwella said US Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs Sir John Holmes complimented the Sri Lanka government on the manner in which it handled the evacuation process after visiting the conflict areas and said that nowhere in the world was a humanitarian operation of such magnitude undertaken.

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