US, Britain urge Sri Lankans to stop fighting, spare civilians

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2009 (AFP) – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her British counterpart David Miliband called Tuesday on Sri Lankans to stop fighting immediately and allow trapped civilians to escape the conflict. During a visit to Sri Lanka late last month, Miliband and Kouchner urged the government to stop the fighting with the Tamil Tigers and allow humanitarian access to the conflict zone.

The Colombo government estimates that up to 20,000 civilians are being held in the less than five-square-kilometer (two-square-mile) area where the rebels are holed up.

The United Nations has said as many as 50,000 may be trapped there. Their joint appeal was the latest in a series of so far futile international calls aimed at ending the fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger separatist guerrillas, holed up on a coastal strip in the island’s northeast.

“Secretary Clinton and UK Foreign Secretary Miliband expressed their profound concern about the humanitarian crisis in northern Sri Lanka caused by the ongoing hostilities,” said a statement issued after their meeting.

“They expressed alarm at the large number of reported civilian casualties over the past several days in the designated ‘saf