European foreign ministers announce Sri Lankan trip | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 26.04.2009
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European foreign ministers announce Sri Lankan trip

Foreign Ministers from Britain, France, and Sweden are set to visit Sri Lanka Wednesday after the government rejected a ceasefire offer from rebels despite UN concerns about civilians caught in the conflict.

Sri Lankan civilians have been displaced by the thousands

The UN estimates that over 150,000 civilians have fled from Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka

In a statement released on Sunday, the British government announced that UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner and Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt will visit Sri Lanka on Wednesday.

"My priority will be to address the humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka and the continuing grave risk to civilians in the conflict zone," said the statement from Miliband's office.

The statement added that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday to express his concerns "about the plight of civilians in the conflict zone.”

Brown reportedly pledged an additional 2.5 million pounds (2.7 million euros) in humanitarian aid for displaced persons and renewed his request to Rajapaksa for a ceasefire.

Colombo has rejected an offer of a ceasefire put forward by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the rebel movement in the northern part of country, who are accused of holding thousands of civilians hostage as government forces move in to crush the once-powerful group.

The UN believes that up to 50,000 non-combatants are trapped in a strip of jungle where Sri Lankan soldiers have surrounded the remnants of the LTTE.

UN presses for civilian protection

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes

The UN's humanitarian chief John Holmes is in Sri Lanka to discuss the crisis

John Holmes, the UN's humanitarian affairs chief, met with Sri Lankan government officials on Sunday to discuss the situation of those civilians trapped by the rebels.

In their offer of a ceasefire, the rebels said: "We welcome the attempts by the UN and its agencies to assist the civilian population and are ready to engage and cooperate with them to address the humanitarian needs of the population."

Sri Lankan Defense Secetary Gotabhaya Rajapakse called the ceasefire statement a "joke" and said the rebels should allow the civilians to leave on their own.

"What is the need for a ceasefire when they are running away? They should first lay down arms, surrender and let the people go," he said.

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