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Colombo to increase safety zones for civilians

ON A MISSIOn: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee being greeted by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on Tuesday. —

ON A MISSIOn: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee being greeted by Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Colombo on Tuesday. —   | Photo Credit: Photo: PTI

Sandeep Dikshit

Pranab conveys concern for safety of people caught in crossfire



NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said here on Wednesday that he conveyed the paramount need to ensure the safety of civilians to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday. Mr. Rajapaksa had assured him that the number of safety zones for the civilians caught in the conflict between the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would be increased.

Sri Lanka claimed that there had been no artillery shelling in the safe zones.

“We made it quite clear our concern about the civilian population, which is around 1.5 lakh who are affected by this crossfire,” Mr. Mukherjee told reporters here after returning from Sri Lanka.

The Minister said he urged Colombo to give access to international agencies such as the International Committee of Red Cross to the affected areas.

Mr. Rajapaksa appreciated India’s concern for the civilians and appealed to “all concerned” to allow them to reach the safe zones, where food, shelter and medical assistance were available.

The two leaders also discussed the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution. The Amendment, made after the Rajiv Gandhi-J.R. Jayawardene pact in 1987, aims to provide devolution and autonomy to the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Mr. Mukherjee said Mr. Rajapaksa assured him that this would be the “area of his urgent attention” and he would try to “explore the possibilities and improve the conditions there.”

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