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US backs Indian efforts to end fighting in Sri Lanka

The United States has expressed its deep concern about the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict beween the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the mounting death toll and has voiced support for the efforts by India to stop the fighting.

"We call on both sides to stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone," a White House statement said.

The statement, issued by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, called upon the Sri Lankan government to stop shelling the "safe zone" and blocking international aid groups and media from accessing those civilians who have managed to escape.

International aid workers should have access to all sites where internally displaced persons are being registered and sheltered, the statement said.  The United States is working with international partners to attempt to care for those civilians who can be reached, it said.

"We call on both sides to strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law. We are very concerned about reports of violations, and take these allegations very seriously," the statement said.

"It would compound the current tragedy if the military end of the conflict only breeds further enmity and ends hopes for reconciliation and a unified Sri Lanka in the future," the statement added.

At the State Department, acting spokesman Robert Wood also said that the US remained  extremely concerned for the safety of the remaining civilians in the no-fire zone.

Although tens of thousands of people have fled the area, numerous people have been killed, and tens of thousands of additional civilians remain in the conflict area, he said at his daily briefing on Friday, calling on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to end hostilities.

Taking note of the visit of National Security Adviser M K Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon to Colombo yesterday, Mr Wood said, "We support Indian efforts to stop the fighting."
 
He said the co-chair countries in the G-8 were working together closely to find a way to end the fighting.

"The Tamil Tigers must stop holding civilians and stop putting them in harm’s way. We call on the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party. The international community needs to provide assistance to a large number of displaced persons. The international community should be prepared to play a role to end the fighting," he said.

Mr Wood also said that the US fully supported the UN Secretary General's decision to send a UN humanitarian team to the no-fire zone, as the Secretary General’s envoy Vijay Nambiar and President Rajapaksa discussed and agreed to last week.

He urged the Sri Lankan government to allow the team into the no-fire zone as soon as possible. He also urged it to allow critical supplies to pass more rapidly through military checkpoints, share its registration information of internally displaced persons with the UN, identify additional shelter sites, and authorize continued medical evacuations from the no-fire zone.

Mr Wood said in reply to a question that the US was in touch with the government of India on this issue.

NNN

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