Sri Lankan president says army operations will continue

Sri Lankan president says army operations will continueColombo - Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that "humanitarian operations" by the military to rescue civilians held hostage by Tamil rebels were to continue unabated, a state-run newspaper said Thursday.

Rajapaksa made clear his government's position in a meeting with visiting British Foreign Minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner, who reiterated calls by the European Union for a truce between the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to allow civilians trapped in the conflict zone in north-easter Sri Lanka to flee.

The president told the ministers strict instructions have been given to the security forces to ensure no civilians would be harmed in any way during the operation, the Daily News reported.

Miliband and Kouchner on Wednesday visited government-controlled camps in Vavuniya, about 250 kilometres north of Colombo, where an estimated 170,000 civilians found shelter after they fled the rebel-held areas in the north-eastern part of the country.

Miliband had stressed that his government regarded the protection of civilians paramount.

Up to 50,000 civilians remain trapped in the combat zone, a part of the Mullaitivu district where civilians and rebels are confined to an area of 5 square kilometers, as the military is carrying on with their operations.

According to unofficial UN figures some 6,500 people have been killed since January, the latest phase of the ongoing conflict, with the majority of the casualties caused by military shelling of the combat zones, while others where murdered by the LTTE when trying to flee the area.

The Sri Lankan government and the UN have accused the LTTE of using civilians as human shields.

The LTTE has been fighting for more than 25 years for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority in majority-Sinhalese Sri Lanka.