Friday, February 06, 2009

Canada announces $3M in aid to Sri Lanka, calls for ceasefire

But island nation's PM says offensive will continue

Last Updated: Thursday, February 5, 2009 6:48 AM ET

Canada on Wednesday pledged $3 million in humanitarian aid for civilians affected by the escalated Sri Lankan conflict and called for an immediate ceasefire.

In a Wednesday statement, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda announced the funding.

The aid consists of a $1 million grant to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and $500,000 grants to each of Oxfam Canada, Médecins Sans Frontières, World Vision, and CARE Canada.

Earlier Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon called on the Sri Lankan government and the rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to put an end to the fighting, which the UN believed had caused 52 deaths the previous day.

"Canada calls for the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to declare and honour an immediate ceasefire to allow full, safe and unhindered access; the evacuation of the sick and wounded; and the delivery of much-needed humanitarian assistance to civilians," Cannon said in a statement.

Cannon's statement echoes similar ceasefire entreaties by governments in the United States and Britain.

No sign of letting up from Sri Lanka

But Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said Thursday the government had no intention of stopping its offensive against the rebels.

Speaking to the Sri Lankan parliament, Wickremanayake described the fighting as a "humanitarian operation" to rid the nation of terrorism and said he heard reports that some rebels were prepared to surrender.

The government has repeatedly rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying it was a ploy by the rebels to buy time to regroup.

It's estimated that between 230,000 and 300,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the Vanni region, representing roughly 40 to 55 per cent of the region's population.

Vanni, in the country's northeast, was the last stronghold of the rebels, but Sri Lanka's military in recent months escalated its attacks on the Tigers. The government credits this tactic with bringing it to the verge of destroying the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and ending a 25-year-old civil war.

Deadly artillery attacks by government and rebel forces have continued for days.

Canadian aid expected to help 160,000

"I am very concerned about the impact of the conflict on Sri Lankan civilians," said Oda in her statement.

"We are working with organizations that have access to affected populations to ensure Canada's assistance will get to those in need."

The funding is expected to help improve access to temporary shelter, water and sanitation or health-care services for at least 160,000 people.

Oda's announcement came on the 61st anniversary of Sri Lanka's independence from Britain. The occasion was marked in the nation's capital, Colombo, by lavish celebrations and a military parade.

But in Canada, which has a Tamil population of about 35,000, rallies took place in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal to protest violence against civilians. Protests were also held in a number of other countries — notably a 12,000-strong rally in Berlin and another in Geneva that drew 4,000 people.

NDP Leader Jack Layton attended the rally in Ottawa. "I know all of you are suffering to the depths of your souls as you think about what's happening to your families,” Layton told the protesters.

"That's why I'm here in support. The Tamils are often forgotten by governments in the Western world,” he said. Speaking at an emergency meeting of MPs in Parliament Wednesday night, Layton said Canada must take a leading role in stopping the fighting.

Thanks: CBC News

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