At least 700 civilians fled Sri Lanka's northern war zone to a government-controlled area on Thursday, the military said, a day after the United Nations said 52 people had been killed by shelling.
Fighting continued as the army has closed in on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) holding out in a 300-sq km (115-sq mile) slice of jungle in the northeast, aiming to end one of Asia's longest-running conflicts.
"About 700 civilians had come to a military-controlled area today morning and many more are coming," said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.
Some 70,000 people have been killed in the fighting since the conflict began in 1983.
The United Nations said on Wednesday at least 52 people were killed and 80 wounded by shelling in the war zone.
Aid agencies have expressed concern about 250,000 people trapped in Tiger-held areas, but the government says the number is about half that.
Human rights watchdogs and the government accuse the LTTE of keeping civilians in its territory to force them to act as fighters, battlefield labourers or human shields. Bur Tamil Tigers denied tha allegations.
The pro-rebel web site www.TamilNet.com said there were fears as many as 300 had been killed in shelling on Monday inside a no-fire zone the military announced last week, quoting eyewitnesses.
"Unattended bodies and injured people unable to move are lying around everywhere, while a remaining doctor fled," the website said.
The military has repeatedly denied firing into the no-fire zone, and claimed that the rebels moved armaments into the area and shot into the safe zone soon after the air force dropped leaflets urging people to go there.
It is impossible to get a clear picture of what is happening inside the combat zone, since independent media are rarely permitted there by either side.
The government has urged civilians to enter a "safety zone" it had demarcated and said it will not be responsible for civilians who do not leave rebel-held areas.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday the only hospital, which is packed with patients, in the Tamil Tiger rebel-held area had been evacuated after being continuously shelled.
ReutersLast Mod: 05 Şubat 2009, 14:44