April 25, 2009 / 12:15 AM / 10 years ago

Obama White House urges halt to Sri Lanka fighting

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration on Friday urged the warring Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tigers militant group to halt their fighting immediately and allow civilians to evacuate.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the plight of innocent civilians caught up in the conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers, and the mounting death toll,” the White House said in a statement.

“We call on both sides to stop fighting immediately and allow civilians to safely leave the combat zone,” it said.

The Sri Lankan military has said more than 108,000 people have poured out of the dwindling rebel area since Monday, when troops blasted through an earth barrier the Tigers built to block movement in and out of the zone.

Diplomatic pressure over the war has boiled over this week with the U.N. Security Council, the United States, India and others demanding Sri Lanka stop its offensive and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam surrender to avert civilian casualties.

The White House urged Sri Lanka’s government to stop shelling the safe zone and preventing international aid groups and media from gaining access to civilians who have escaped the fighting.

“International aid workers should have access to all sites where internally displaced persons are being registered and sheltered,” the White House said. “The United States is working with international partners to attempt to care for those civilians who can be reached.”

The White House called on both sides to “strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law.”

“We are very concerned about reports of violations, and take these allegations very seriously,” the statement said.

Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Todd Eastham

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