9:40 AM

INGOs asked to quit LTTE-held area

With major ground battles expected in the Vanni theatre in the coming weeks if not days, the government has advised all INGOs including the UN agencies and NGOs to quit the LTTE-held area.

Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday said that the government wanted them to set up a base in the security forces controlled area. Responding to queries raised at Tuesday's press conference at the Media Centre for National Security, he questioned the conduct of some INGOs and NGOs. He expressed concern over the possibility of the LTTE endangering the lives of local and expatriate staff.

The army is stepping up pressure on the LTTE with troops on one flank positioned at the southern edge of Akkarayankulam tank about 12 kilometres away from Kilinochchi. The government has said that it could no longer ensure the safety of aid workers in the LTTE-controlled area.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said that Task Force I, Task Force II, 57 Division on the western flank and the 59 Division on the eastern flank were making steady progress.

In a brief statement issued Tuesday, UN mission in Colombo said that it was in the process of evaluating operations with a view to re-locating humanitarian staff. "A precise timetable for the complete withdrawal of all staff is yet to be determined, but relocations will begin this week," it said.

ICRC spokesperson Ms Sarasi Wijeratne last night said they were continuing operations in the area. Responding to our query she said the ICRC was not asked to vacate the area.

Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe has briefed the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) of the government decision. The meeting took place on Monday (8) after Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa called for immediate relocation of INGOs and NGOs

Samarasinghe said that government was responsible for the safety and security of all INGO and NGO staff. Urging them to continue their relief, the minister reiterated the government's commitment to look after the displaced through District Secretaries as was done in Vakarai. The CCHA also appointed a committee to be chaired by Basil Rajapaksa, MP to discuss operational issues with the UN and INGOs.