US ‘deeply concerned’ by civilian deaths in Sri Lanka

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2009 (AFP) – The United States is “deeply concerned” about civilian deaths in strife-torn Sri Lanka, a State Department spokesman said Monday, calling on the Colombo government and Tamil Tiger rebels to end their fighting. “We’re deeply concerned,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, when asked to comment on reports that more than 400 civilians had been killed in a no-fire zone.

“We think that there’s an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties. We’ve repeatedly urged the Tamil Tigers to lay down its arms and allow the civilians to leave the safe zone,” Kelly said.

The spokesman also called on the government of Sri Lanka “to abide by its April 27th statement that combat operations have concluded, and that security forces should end the use of heavy weapons, which of course could cause civilian casualties.”

Sri Lanka’s leaders believe their military offensive is close to defeating the Tamil rebels after 37 years of ethnic conflict. The Tigers have been driven back to a sliver of land on the northeastern coast, where the United Nations say they have been holding up to 50,000 Tamil civilians hostage.

The government so far has turned down requests to send humanitarian aid into rebel territory.