The military yesterday vowed to maintain the demarcated safe zone for civilians fleeing the fighting in LTTE-held areas, as the security forces were poised to intensify their operations against the last remaining rebel pockets in the Mullaitivu district, Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said.
“The safe passage stretching from Theravilkulam near the Paranthan- Mullaitivu A 35 highway will be spared in the military operations to encourage civilians to move into the demarcated area as the fighting hots up,” he said.
“The safe zone of 35 sq. km is in an LTTE-held area. However, this place will not be targeted if civilians begin moving into the area,” Brigadier Nanayakkara said.
Thereafter the civilians who have entered the safe zone will be given further instruction on how to move on depending on the battle progress and the prevailing ground situation, he said.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday announced a safe passage lasting 48 hours, and called on the LTTE to allow the people to leave during this period, which ended at midnight yesterday.
“The security authorities in the combat area have made arrangements and are preparing for the expected arrival of many more civilians in the next few days as fighting intensifies on the other fronts,” Brigadier Nanayakkara said.He said there was no ceasefire at any time and military operations were in progress in other areas away from the safe passage.
“The security forces are continuing with their operations against the LTTE in a manner where civilian casualties are zero,” he said.
Meanwhile reports from the LTTE-controlled areas said civilians had now moved into Mungil Aru, Sudthanithirapuram, Devipuram and Irrittumadu areas located north of the Paranthan-Mullaitivu Road.
Some 500 persons including those injured are still remaining in makeshift hospitals located in these areas while many civilians were living it rough inside bunkers and trenches.
On Thursday some 350 people, including 226 critically-injured people, were escorted to the Vavuniya hospital. However the family members were not allowed to stay in the hospital and were put up in refugee camps.
Resettlement Minister Rishard Bathiyudeen said he was trying to make arrangements for the family members to visit the injured and the sick in the hospital.
Meanwhile, the United Nations yesterday urged the LTTE to allow civilians caught in the fighting inside Mullaitivu to move out to wherever they wish to.
The UN’s Colombo office chief Gordon Weiss said: “The safety of civilians has always remained of grave concern to us and with the ground situation getting more dangerous the LTTE is obliged to allow the free movement of the people if they wish to leave for safer locations that includes Government-controlled areas”.
He said that future aid convoys carrying food and other essential items to an estimated 200,000 civilians trapped in the LTTE areas would depend on the prevailing ground situation.
The last government-controlled convoy carrying 170 tons of food and essentials from the World Food Programme (WFP) rolled into the Wanni on Thursday.
The UN envoy could not be drawn into comment when asked if this would be the final aid convoy, only to add that “everything depends on the prevailing situation in the days to follow”.
On Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki -moon called on both the Government and the LTTE to do everything in their power into ensure the safe passage that has been promised to the civilians.
In a statement from New York, Mr. Ban also called on the LTTE to allow civilians in the conflict zone to move to where they feel most secure, including areas under Government-control.
While welcoming President Rajapaksa’s announcement of a safe passage for civilians the UN Chief however expressed concern for their welfare owing to their proximity to the combat areas.
He also called on the Government to ensure that civilians were treated in accordance with the international standards, including guarantees for their freedom of movement, provision of basic services and full access to humanitarian agencies.
Meanwhile Defence spokesperson and Minister Kehiliya Rambukwella yesterday urged civilians trapped in the fighting to enter the safe passage where they would be provided with necessary facilities including food and medicine, while the security forces will be active to liberate the people from the LTTE-held areas.