"Miliband in row with Sri Lankan defence minister
• Exchange followed foreign secretary's criticism of army tactics
• Military kills 25 Tigers as rebels vow never to surrender
The foreign secretary, David Miliband, was involved in a heated exchange with a Sri Lankan minister over the safety of civilians in the area held by the Tamil Tigers, according to a newspaper report from the country reproduced on its defence ministry's website.
The story in the Island claims Miliband interrupted the Sri Lankan defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, yesterday as he was describing how the army had rescued 200,000 civilians from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), to say Britain had credible information that civilians were being harmed by the army's firing.
Rajapaksa responded by warning Britain against being "duped" by the Tiger's "disinformation campaign", adding: "Even BBC is dishing out LTTE propaganda material without verification."
When Miliband, who was in the country with his French counterpart, Bernard Kouchner, to push for a humanitarian truce in the war with the Tamil rebels, said his claim was based on credible information from sources in the LTTE-held no-fire zone, Rajapaksa was "apparently annoyed", according to the report.
"The defence secretary said anyone who knew the LTTE would not believe that any reliable information would emanate from that area under its jackboot," it said.
The report added: "The defence secretary said it was up to the British delegation to decide whether it should believe what a terrorist group said or what a responsible officer of a legitimate government told them."
The Foreign Office said it did recognise the account of the meeting.
"What is certainly true is that the foreign secretary set out clearly the importance of a ceasefire/humanitarian assistance with all key members of the government of Sri Lanka that he met," a spokeswoman said.
The Sri Lankan government has refused growing diplomatic pressure to stop its offensive against the rebel group's last stronghold in the north-east to safeguard the estimated 50,000 civilians trapped in the area. On Sunday, the LTTE called for a ceasefire but the proposal was rejected by the government.
Today the LTTE vowed it would never surrender to the advancing Sri Lankan forces, as the military released video footage of attacks on the depleted rebel group's navy.
The footage shows the Sri Lankan navy's elite special boat squadron blowing up what it says were Sea Tiger boats. The attacks – using heavy weapons, which the government said it was no longer using following criticism from the international community – destroyed six boats, including four "suicide craft", and killed 25 rebels, according to the military.
However, the Tamil Tigers remained defiant. In an email sent to the Associated Press from the war zone, the rebel political chief, Balasingam Nadesan, said the group would not surrender and urged the international community to step up pressure for a ceasefire.
"If any country really cares about these people, I ask that country to go beyond its 'diplomatic boundaries' for the sake of saving human lives and make Sri Lanka stop this genocidal war," he wrote.
"Surrendering and laying down our arms are out of the question. Our freedom struggle will continue until [our] legitimate aspirations are met."
Nadesan denied accusations by the government and international rights groups that the rebels were holding civilians as human shields to slow the military offensive. He dismissed reports that the rebels' top leaders had fled the country, saying they "are still in our homeland and leading the freedom struggle".
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a state for minority Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka after decades of marginalisation by governments dominated by the Sinhalese majority.
The UN says nearly 6,500 civilians have been killed since January in the most recent wave of fighting."