Hunger striker 'critical' as Tamil crisis grows

Sri Lanka pressed ahead with its military onslaught against the Tamil Tigers last night despite calls from Britain and France for an immediate ceasefire to allow thousands of civilians to escape the conflict zone.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, called on Sri Lanka to halt their offensive in the north while visiting one of the displacement camps that have sprung up to house Tamil refugees and root out Tiger fighters.

Their calls came as doctors gave a Tamil hunger striker in Parliament Square "just days" to live. Parameswaram Subramaniam has been on a hunger strike for 23 days. He recently stepped up his protest by refusing to even take water.

Fears are growing that Mr Subramaniam will carry out his threat to starve himself to death unless Britain secures an immediate ceasefire from the Sri Lankan government. He has signed a statement rejecting medical treatment if he falls unconscious.

Dr Velauthapillai Arudkumar, one of four Tamil doctors monitoring Mr Subramaniam, said: "He is very weak and we are worried that he might slip into a coma in the next few days unless he takes some water. We keep asking him to drink but he simply refuses."

Mr Miliband said he was demanding a ceasefire to protect the estimated 50,000 civilians caught in the "safe-zone" where the fighting is taking place, not to save the Tamil Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

"No one in the international community has been calling for a ceasefire or to stop firing to save Prabhakaran," he said. "The calls have come because of the overwhelming concern with the wellbeing of the civilians. Now is the time for the fighting to stop. Sri Lanka's military advances have been spectacular, but winning the peace is as vital as winning the war."

The Sri Lankan government has repeatedly rejected calls for a truce, saying any pause in its battle against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would give the rebels time to regroup.

Mr Milliband and Mr Kouchner are the highest-level European officials to visit the island since the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami. But in a clear snub to the European powers, Colombo barred the Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, from attending the talks.

The Sri Lankan army has pushed back the Tamils Tigers to five square miles of land in the north-east of the island. Yesterday morning, the army said it had sunk a number of "suicide boats" which were being commandeered by 25 rebels.

The army claims to have stopped using heavy artillery, to protect trapped civilians. But a pro-Tamil website said artillery shells from navy gunships had landed on a makeshift hospital in Mullivaaykkaal, killing nine civilians. Journalists are banned from entering the war zone, making it difficult to verify claims by the army or the LTTE.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee