Home International British, French ministers to visit Sri Lanka battle zone

British, French ministers to visit Sri Lanka battle zone


Colombo : The foreign ministers of Britain and France were Wednesday set to visit thousands of displaced people in northern Sri Lanka, while government officials said the army was concentrating on rescuing civilians trapped in the last remaining area held by Tamil rebels.

British Foreign Minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner are to meet Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, President Mahinda Rajapaksa before visiting refugee camps in the Vavuniya area, 254 km north of Colombo.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt who was due to accompany the European ministers, said he was denied an entry visa by the Sri Lankan government, a claim rejected by Bogollagama who said Bildt did not apply for visa.

The visit comes as government troops continue fighting in northeastern Sri Lanka to get access to some 50,000 civilians trapped in the coastal area of Mullaitivu, 395 km from the capital, which is still controlled by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Two days ago, the government vowed to halt the use of heavy weapons in combat operations to allow civilians trapped in the combat zone to flee.

The LTTE rebels and the civilians are confined to an area of about six square kilometres. The civilians are believed to face severe food and medicine shortages as no aid shipments could reach the area since April 2.

The military says they are in the final phase of a campaign to crush the rebels who have been fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils for the last 25 years.