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Sri Lanka Rejects U.K.-French Cease-Fire Plea

A mission by the foreign ministers of Britain and France to secure an assurance from Sri Lanka to end its offensive against Tamil rebels and enable humanitarian agencies access to civilians trapped in the island-republic's war zone failed Wednesday, reports say.

"We tried very hard, we insisted, and we insisted, but it is up to our friends to allow it or not," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a news conference following talks with his Sri Lankan counterpart Rohitha Bogollagama.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also lamented the talks had ended in failure, reminding Colombo that calls for a cease-fire were "only to save civilians" and not the rebel members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The failure followed the U.N.'s humanitarian chief, John Holmes, leaving the island-republic empty-handed earlier this week after he failed to secure greater access, on humanitarian grounds, to persons trapped in the conflict zone.

Bogollagama reportedly told the two ministers that Colombo was doing everything possible to save innocent Tamil civilians trapped in a sliver of area alongwith the rebel LTTE in the northern part of the country.

He also disputed suggestions that LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran could have escaped from the country, adding that his concern was for the civilian population and not for Prabhakaran.

The E.U. envoys will visit to the increasingly constricting conflict zone in the northern part of the island-nation, where 50,000 civilians are still caught in the fighting, before flying back.

Although President Mahinda Rajapakse announced Monday an end to combat operations and pledged that air strikes and attacks using heavy-caliber weapons would be stopped, ground attacks were reportedly continuing.

On the eve of the visit of the two ambassadors, Sri Lankan authorities announced they had denied Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt a visa to join the peace mission--prompting Stockholm to recall Borje Mattssona, its envoy to Colombo, for consultations.

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