Three EU ministers to fly to Sri Lanka in emergency peace mission

Three EU ministers to fly to Sri Lanka in emergency peace mission Luxembourg - Three European Union foreign ministers are planning an urgent mission to Sri Lanka amidst concerns for the safety of civilians trapped by the fighting, diplomats announced on Monday as the bloc called for an immediate ceasefire.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Sweden, David Miliband, Bernard Kouchner and Carl Bildt respectively, are to fly to the embattled country on Wednesday in a bid to win safety for civilians caught between government and rebel forces.

"We hope there would be an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, so it would be possible for the tens of thousands of people that are trapped there to come out, and that they are treated decently according to humanitarian law," Bildt said as he arrived at a meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

At the meeting, foreign ministers issued a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire allowing civilians to leave the combat zone.

The statement also urged Sri Lanka's government to cooperate with a UN mission and to allow the international community to oversee the reception and treatment of refugees from the fighting.

And it commended both the Sri Lankan authorities and the Tamil Tiger rebels for scaling back their combat operations, urging them to return to the negotiating table.

"The EU believes this is the only way in which lasting peace in Sri Lanka will be achieved," the statement said.

Britain and France are the EU's two veto-holding permanent members of the UN Security Council. Sweden is set to take over the bloc's presidency in July.

"I don't think it's any exaggeration to say that there is a crisis in north-eastern Sri Lanka. The scale of civilian casualties is very large indeed, extremely distressing to the whole of the international community," Miliband said. (dpa)