Asian Evangelical Head Welcomes Sri Lanka Decision to End Heavy Combat

The head of Asian Evangelical Alliance (AEA) on Monday welcomed the Sri Lankan government's decision stop heavy shelling and air strikes against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the northern part of the country.

A statement released by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's office on Monday announced that the combat operations in the northern parts of the island have concluded and security forces have been instructed to end the use of heavy caliber guns, combat aircraft and aerial fire.

The military will now focus on rescuing the tens of thousands of civilians who have been caught in the fighting.

The Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, general secretary of AEA, appreciated the response of the island nation and urged churches across the globe to remember Sri Lanka in their prayers.

"Pray that the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka will cease hostilities, respect international humanitarian norms, safeguard passage for the evacuation of civilians, and take every effort to minimize civilian casualties by making safety zones and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps," he requested.

Additionally, "pray that internationally accepted standards of protection and care are carried out within IDP camps, including the freedom of movement to civilians and access of outside aid agencies to the civilians in the camps and among other displaced communities."

Britain, the European Union, India and the United Nations have also welcomed Sri Lanka's immediate response in halting combat operations and have further demanded a complete ceasefire.

The United Nations estimates that some 50,000 non-combatants are still trapped in the conflict area, while the government maintains that the number is fewer than 20,000.

Last week the United Nations also estimated that as many as 6,500 civilians may have been killed and another 14,000 wounded in the government's offensive this year.

LTTE says it is fighting to create a separate state for the country's 3.1 million ethic minority Tamils, which it says is being discriminated against in Sri Lanka.