Thousands flee Sri Lanka war zone
Published 23/04/2009 | 02:34
Sri Lankan soldiers distribute food parcels to ethnic Tamil civilians who fled the Tamil Tiger-controlled areas in the war zone
Thousands more civilians fled Sri Lanka’s war zone yesterday as troops pushed deeper into the Tamil Tiger rebels’ sliver of remaining territory.
The UN and humanitarian groups called for an immediate end to the fighting so more civilians could escape. Over the past three days, the military says more than 80,000 have fled after forces broke through a key rebel embankment protecting their territory.
The government has ignored peace calls, saying for weeks it was on the verge of crushing the rebels as troops removed them from their former strongholds and hemmed them into a tiny strip of coastal land.
The government had previously declared the area a “no fire” zone to protect civilians. But after breaking through the embankment troops entered the zone and captured part of it during fighting on Monday and Tuesday. At least 43 rebels were killed.
With this week’s advances the area under rebel control has shrunk to just five miles along the north-eastern coast, a military spokesman said.
The UN estimates that more than 4,500 civilians have been killed in the past three months and has called for a negotiated truce to allow others to leave the shrinking rebel-held enclave.
Yesterday the rebels accused the government of killing 1,000 civilians in their latest offensive — a charge the military denies. In the past humanitarian groups have said troops shelled the densely populated area.
The United Nations, many countries and human rights groups have expressed grave concerns for the remaining trapped civilians, fearing the government may launch an all-out assault soon after giving the rebels a 24-hour ultimatum to surrender. The deadline expired yesterday with no response.
The Red Cross said civilians could face a “catastrophic” situation under such a military assault.
Amnesty International urged the government and rebels to “take all necessary measures immediately to prevent unlawful killing of civilians”.