Sri Lankan people from ethnic Tamil minority hold placards during a protest rally in the northern government-held town of Vavuniya yesterday. The accused Tamil Tiger rebels of holding thousands of fellow Tamils as "human shields". Photo: AFP
Putting the onus on the LTTE for halting the Sri Lankan military offensive in the north of the island nation, Home Minister P Chidambaram has said if the outfit laid down arms, India would intervene and arrange for a negotiated settlement to the vexed ethnic issue.
"Our (Congress) policy is clear. LTTE is an armed militant group. They must announce that they are willing to lay down arms and are prepared for talks. Simultaneously, the Sri Lankan Government should suspend its military offensive," he told a public meeting organised by the party here on Sunday night.
"Indian Government will definitely arrange for a dialogue if the LTTE lays down arms and came forward for talks. A good solution can be found to the 40 lakh Tamils in Sri Lanka," he said asking the Congressmen to carry this message to every nook and corner of the state.
Chidambaram's comments came at a time when several pro-LTTE parties and outfits in Tamil Nadu are demanding immediate ceasefire in Sri Lanka and accusing the state and Central governments of "failure" to ensure safety of civilian Tamils caught in the ongoing war.
The union minister criticised the LTTE for not utilising the recent 48-hour ceasefire proposed by the Sri Lankan government to allow people to move to safer areas and come for talks.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross evacuated Monday a ferry load of 400 civilians wounded in fighting between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil Tiger rebels.
The injured and their accompanying relatives were shipped out of the conflict zone in the northeast of the island and taken for "further medical treatment," International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne said.
The ICRC carried out similar sea evacuations twice last week, bringing 745 wounded from Puttumattalan to the government-controlled northeastern seaport town of Trincomalee.
The ICRC has warned of a "humanitarian catastrophe" unfolding in the region, where the government says thousands of civilians are being held as human shields by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The United Nations, the United States and Britain have asked the Tigers to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone while also urging the Colombo government to declare a temporary truce. Both calls have been rejected.
The Sri Lankan military says it is on the verge of victory, having boxed the remnants of the LTTE into a narrow strip of coastal jungle.
Hundreds of ethnic Tamils took to the streets of the northern town of Vavuniya on Monday, calling on the rebels to allow all civilians safe passage.
About 37,000 people have fled the conflict zone, but global rights groups have also raised concerns that the government is holding refugees in "prison-like conditions."