The United States, European Union, Japan and Norway on Tuesday urged Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers rebels to consider surrendering to avoid more deaths, including among thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone.
The call for the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to discuss a surrender came as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said civilians were fleeing a hospital that had been shelled for a fifth time in three days.
The ICRC says at least 12 people have been killed in the hospital in Puthukudiyiruppu, inside the 300 sq km (115 sq miles) of jungle in the Indian Ocean island’s north where the Sri Lankan military has cornered the separatist guerrillas.
“There remains probably only a short period of time before the LTTE loses control of all areas in the north,” the joint statement from the United States, E.U., Japan and Norway said.
Sri Lanka’s military has encircled the Tigers and is confident it will win a war that is now one of Asia’s longest-running conflicts, in which 70,000 people have been killed since 1983.
“The LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka should recognize that further loss of life — of civilians and combatants — will serve no cause,” the joint statement said.
It urged the LTTE to discuss surrender, renounce violence, accept a government offer of amnesty and participate “as a political party in a process to achieve a just and lasting political solution”.
It also urged both sides to respect international humanitarian law and a temporary cease fire to allow the sick and wounded out and aid into the war zone.
Late on Tuesday, the ICRC said the hospital’s operating theatre had been hit.
“We don’t have any details of casualties,” ICRC spokesman Sarasi Wijeratne said in Colombo.
Earlier, she said at least 12 people were killed and 30 wounded in two days of shelling from Sunday.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa last week gave the Tigers 48 hours to free thousands of civilians trapped in the battle zone. The LTTE ignored Rajapaksa’s call.
The government had promised safe passage but on Monday said it could not guarantee the safety of anyone still living among the rebels unless they entered an army-demarcated no-fire zone.
“People are on the move because they are looking for a safe place. But there is no safe place,” ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad said from Geneva.
Aid agencies say 250,000 people are trapped in Tiger-held areas, but the government says the number is about half that. The military and the rebels again traded blame for the shelling.
“We don’t fire shells on that area. It must be LTTE which are firing shells as they are desperate,” military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said of the attack on the hospital.
Pro-rebel http://www.TamilNet.com said the shells were fired by the military “throughout the whole day on Monday from all directions into civilian refuges. At least 100 civilians could have been killed or maimed in the indiscriminate barrage”.
It is nearly impossible to verify accounts from the war zone, off-limits for journalists except on carefully guided tours.
Fighting raged again on Tuesday, according to a government official working in a military-controlled area close to the frontlines, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“I can hear shelling sounds from here,” the official said. “The government has ordered people to come out, but the LTTE is not allowing the people to come out. Heavy fighting is going on. The number of deaths and injured are very high.”