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India Offers To Help In Evacuating Civilians Trapped In Sri Lanka Conflict Zone

Indian government on Wednesday offered to help in evacuating the thousands of civilians trapped in the fighting between the government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels in the north of the Island nation.

Addressing the Indian parliament on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee urged the Tamil Tiger rebels to lay down their arms, saying that they have already "done much damage" to the Tamil community in Sri Lanka.

He said that the hardships facing the 70,000 civilians estimated to be trapped in the conflict zone a "serious source of concern" to New Delhi, adding that India was "actively engaged to prevent a further deterioration of humanitarian conditions" and had sent relief supplies to civilians.

"The government of India is ready to facilitate the evacuation of civilians trapped in the area of conflict, working with the government of Sri Lanka and the International Committee of the Red Cross, who would take responsibility for the security, screening and rehabilitation," he told lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said that his country welcomed India's offer, "provided it is done within the framework the we have set up already".

The UN and other aid agencies say that thousands of civilians are trapped in the fighting between the Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels in the north of the country. They also accuse the Tamil Tiger rebels of forcefully preventing civilians from leaving the conflict zone in the north of the island, where the military is fighting the rebel forces.

Fighting between the Tamil Tiger rebels and the government forces intensified recently after the Sri Lankan government backed out of a 2002 Norwegian-brokered ceasefire in January 2008 and launched an all out offensive against the rebels, aiming to crush them by the year end.

Last month, the Sri Lankan forces had captured Jaffna peninsula, Elephant Pass and the rebel de facto capital of Kilinochchi from the Tamil Tigers, and are currently advancing into the remaining rebel-held regions in the northern part of the island nation.

It is estimated that more than 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the country's civil war that began after the Tamil Tiger rebels launched an armed rebellion in 1983, demanding an independent state for the Tamil minority in the island's northern and eastern regions.

by RTT Staff Writer

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