Sri Lanka mulls new offensive to ‘liberate’ trapped civilians

February 1, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s military said Sunday it would move to “liberate” civilians trapped by fighting with Tamil Tiger forces, after a deadline expired for the rebels to allow non-combatants to leave the war zone. International concern over the fate of tens of thousands of men, women and children stuck in the encircled Tigers’ jungle territory has grown in recent days, with aid agencies saying hundreds may have already been killed.

“The next step for us is to liberate the civilians,” said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

“There will be new operations to get the people to safety now that the Tigers have not allowed civilians to leave,” Nanayakkara said, while declining to specify the nature of any fresh offensive.

With the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the brink of outright defeat, the government threatened to expel any foreign journalists — as well as aid agencies and diplomats — seen as supportive of the rebels.

“They will be chased away (if they try) to give a second wind to the LTTE terrorists at a time the security forces, at heavy cost, are dealing them the final blow,” Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse told the Sunday Island newspaper.

Preside