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Britain, France fail to secure Sri Lanka truce
COLOMBO: The foreign ministers of Britain and France said yesterday they had failed to persuade Sri Lanka to end its offensive against Tamil rebels and allow aid in for civilians trapped by the fighting. “We tried very hard – we insisted and we insisted – but it is up to our friends to allow it or not,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a news conference after talks with the Sri Lankan government. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also said the talks had ended without a breakthrough. “Now is the time for the fighting to stop,” Miliband said, but later admitted to the BBC that “there isn’t going to be a ceasefire today as a result of this visit”. “This does belong on the United Nations Security Council agenda. This is a civil war that does have regional and wider ramifications, and happens to be a massive civilian emergency as well,” he said. Sri Lanka’s leaders say they are on the cusp of victory after 37 years of violence, with the rebels cornered and outnumbered in a small strip of coastal jungle in the northeast of the island. Government officials have argued that any truce would only allow the rebels to regroup. But at the centre of global concern are some 50,000 Tamil civilians who the UN says are unable to escape the fighting. A UN document circulated among diplomats in Colombo last week said that as many as 6,500 civilians may have been killed and another 14,000 wounded in the government’s offensive so far this year. Sri Lanka has for months blocked most aid agencies from working in the conflict zone, and has herded 110,000 fleeing civilians into overcrowded camps which are guarded by the military. Kouchner and Miliband visited one camp near the northern town of Vavuniya yesterday, where Tamils told them of relatives who had been arrested inside what the government calls “welfare villages”. Kouchner told AFP that “this camp is good, the rest must be awful” referring to the severe shortage of food, shelter and medical essentials reported at other camps. In the latest fighting, Sri Lanka’s navy said that it sank six rebel boats and killed at least 25 guerrillas in a pre-dawn sea battle yesterday. – AFP

Pakistan troops seize control of key town in Buner
Soldiers stand guard at a post in Pakistan’s Lower Dir district yesterday.

PESHAWAR: Pakistani troops yesterday took control of the key town in northwestern Buner district, a day after launching a major ground and air assault against Taliban militants, the military said. “We have taken control of Dagar town and an operation by the ground forces is under way,” said a senior military officer. “Early morning yesterday heliborne forces successfully landed at


Dagar and surrounding areas and secured Dagar, headquarters of Buner district,” the military added in a statement. The army and paramilitary Frontier Corps troops were involved in the operation. Pakistan troops launched an operation in the Buner district near the Swat valley on Tuesday, in an intensified effort to flush out Taliban militants. Chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said fighter jets had also been used in Tuesday’s operation. Dagar, a town of about 25,000, is the administrative centre of Buner. The latest operation by the Pakistani military follows an offensive mounted in nearby Lower Dir over the weekend that has swelled the number of people displaced by fighting in northwest Pakistan, prompting calls for humanitarian help by local officials and aid workers. The United States, which has put Pakistan at the heart of the battle against terrorism and Al Qaeda, hailed the military operations as “exactly the appropriate response”

to halt the Taliban’s progress, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. “We are encouraging of these efforts,” Morrell said. “We hope they can sustain these operations.” The United States has been pushing for Islamabad to crack down on the Taliban, insisting that Islamist extremists, historically supported by Pakistani intelligence, pose the greatest threat to the nuclear-armed country and not arch rival India. The offensive mounted in Lower Dir, in which 70-75 militants and 10 security personnel died, has now been completed, Abbas said on Tuesday. The Dir military offensive has led to the displacement of around 30,000 people, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister in the government of North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The operation in Buner has been mounted to stem Taliban efforts to encroach into regions beyond Swat. In February, the government agreed that Islamic syariah law could be enforced in Swat and its surrounding districts in a deal aimed at ending two years of rebellion during which followers of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah beheaded opponents and torched girls’ schools. – AFP