23 Apr 2009

NZ pressure sought to end war in Sri Lanka

9:20 pm on 23 April 2009

New Zealand's Tamil community issued a plea to the Government on Thursday to help bring an immediate ceasefire to the war in Sri Lanka.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam want to create a separate state for Sri Lanka's minority Tamils and have been fighting a 26-year battle with government forces.

The military began a "final offensive" this week and says more than 100,000 civilians have escaped from the small rebel-held zone in the north of the country, after troops blasted through a massive wall.

However, thousands of people remain trapped and there are growing fears for their safety. A further 80,000 people are in overcrowded refugee camps away from the front.

On Thursday, more than 200 Tamils marched from Aotea Square to Britomart in central Auckland to protest what they say is a humanitarian catastrophe.

The protesters are asking the New Zealand Government to apply the necessary pressure to end the conflict and to have humanitarian aid allowed into the affected areas.

Many of the protesters do not want to be identified, as they fear for the safety of their relatives in Sri Lanka, but they say they do not believe outsiders are getting a clear picture of what is really happening.

The Tamil Youth Organisation says it is an "unequal war", with 300 Tamil Tigers versus a 50,000-strong Sri Lankan military force.

As well as ending the war, the organisation says it wants peace with dignity - meaning a permanent political solution where Tamils will not have to live in refugee camps.

This week's fighting has prompted worldwide protests and an appeal by the United Nations for the rebels to lay down their arms and help civilians out of the war zone.

The UN and others have accused the Tamil Tigers of forcing people to stay in the area or making them fight, and the government of shelling civilian areas. Both deny the accusations.

A military deadline for the Tamil Tigers to surrender or face a final assault expired on Tuesday. However, a senior rebel later said the group would never surrender nor give up its drive to create a separate state.