French envoy expected to be
summoned over Kouchner’s claim
Some escapees are drowning – France
No truth in the claim – Lankan military

Many an eye brow has been raised in diplomatic circles by the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s suggestion that France and Britain carry out a joint humanitarian operation in Sri Lanka as, among other things, some of the civilians fleeing the conflict zone in the Vanni are drowning in the sea.

AFP reported yesterday that Kouchner had said in a radio interview that France would try to launch a humanitarian operation in Sri Lanka and he would have discussions with his British counterpart David Miliband in that regard.

Kouchner, the AFP report said, had said French and British boats could be deployed to help the IDPs ‘because these people are on the beaches and some are drowning at sea."

Asked whether France was contemplating a military intervention, Kouchner had answered in the negative, AFP said.

"We certainly have not reached that point," he was quoted as having said.

Kouchner is reported to have said that his proposal was still at an early stage.

Commander Mahesh Karunaratne speaking for the Sri Lanka Navy said there was no truth in the claim that civilians were drowning. Most of the people had

French envoy expected ...

waded through a shallow lagoon and some of them had escaped via the sea in boats. He said the Navy had removed all the people fleeing in boats to safety and taken care of all their needs. No incident of drowning had been reported, he stressed.

A spokesman for the 58 Division, which conducted Monday’s operation to rescue civilians, said the army could vouch for the fact that not a single civilians had drowned. He said some civilians had died in attacks the LTTE carried out by using suicide bombers, small fire arms and heavy guns.

Speculation in diplomatic circles in Colombo last night was that the Foreign Ministry would summon the French Ambassador in Colombo and express Sri Lanka’s ‘grave concern’ over Kouchner’s statement.

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