Thousands of civilians flee war zone in Sri lanka

Civilians are said to have fled Sri Lanka's war zone in the last two days as government forces step up pressure on the Tamil Tiger separatists.

Thousands of civilians flee war zone in Sri lanka

More than 2,500 civilians are said to have fled Sri Lanka's war zone in the last two days as government forces step up pressure on the Tamil Tiger separatists.

Fighting is concentrated around a shrinking circle of jungle in the Indian Ocean island's northeast, where the military said it has all but surrounded the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists.

Trapped inside the 175 sq km (67 sq mile) battlefield are tens of thousands of civilians under grave threat of harm, said the government and a growing list of nations to be held in the war zone by the LTTE.

But they have started to come out in the past three weeks.

"Today, 600 people have come up until now," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. On Thursday, 1,637 escaped the fighting, he said.

Aid agencies say there are 250,000 people trapped in the battle zone, but the government says the number is half of that.

Late on Thursday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the military operation would proceed while ensuring civilians are kept safe, the president's office said in a statement.

The Tigers, once widely regarded as one of the world's most ruthlessly effective guerrilla organisations, are now nearing defeat, analysts say. Rajapaksa this week said the ground war could be over in days.

Asked how long it would take to finish the war, Nanayakkara said: "We are going to do it as fast as possible. Let the civilians come out and then we will show how fast we'll do it."

Sri Lanka has said it had refused calls for a ceasefire for negotiations.

The United States, Britain, the European Union and others have urged the Tigers to surrender, and for both sides to stop firing temporarily to allow civilians out and aid in.

"There is a lot of pressure being applied right now to ensure the civilians are kept safe," said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Civilians

The pro-rebel website TamilNet.com on Friday said the military had shelled a no-fire zone the army demarcated late last month and killed 16 people.

It is nearly impossible to verify battlefield accounts, since independent access
The United Nations on Wednesday said 52 people had been killed from shelling but it did not say who was responsible.

Sri Lankan military officials on Thursday said that following the fall of the Chalai base, the LTTE was now left with just 20km coastline in the northeastern district of Mullaittivu.

"The army has just moved into the Chalai base," a military official said.

"Troops are now consolidating their hold in the coastal area."

There was no immediate comment from the LTTE on the government claim.

The UN and other aid agencies say more than 250,000 civilians are still trapped in the war zone.

Aid groups said the last functioning hospital there was shut down on Wednesday after being shelled for the fifth time in three days.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said staff and patients fled the hospital after the incident.

Sri Lankan troops have been engaged in an all-out offensive in recent months against the LTTE, which has been fighting since 1983 to carve out a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the country's north and east.


Agencies

Last Mod: 06 Şubat 2009, 16:39
Add Comment