500 civilians killed in Sri Lanka fighting, rebels say

February 5th, 2009 - 11:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Feb 5 (DPA) At least 500 civilians have been killed in the past three weeks in heavy fighting in northeastern Sri Lanka, Tamil rebels said Thursday.About 2,000 other civilians were wounded in the clashes between Sri Lankan army forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), said Tamilnet, an Internet site close to LTTE, quoting “medical sources”.

Heavy artillery shelling of the last remaining provisional hospital in rebel-held territory killed seven civilians and injured 27 of the patients, the website said.

The army shelled the surroundings of the clinic which is housed in a school near Udaiyaarkaddu Thursday.

The information could not be independently confirmed as journalists and monitors are denied access to the conflict zone by the army.

The army has pushed the LTTE back into a 200 sq km stretch of land on the northeastern coast of the island.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), about 250,000 civilians remain in the area, while the army puts the number at 100,000.

ICRC spokeswoman Sarasi Wijeratne said the Red Cross was gravely concerned about the situation. On Wednesday the last proper hospital in the conflict zone had to be evacuated after artillery shelling.

The remaining 300 patients had to be provisionally housed and had to lie on the floor, she said. Also, they were lacking drinking water. She stressed that according to international law, medical facilities were off-limits to attack.

The government accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields and preventing them from leaving the area, while the LTTE charged the army with indiscriminately shelling the area.

Meanwhile, the army continued its campaign with airstrikes and ground attacks, saying troops entered the costal regions of Chalai, the last bastion of the Sea Tigers, the LTTE’s quasi-navy.

A Sea Tiger deputy commander and three other rebel leaders have been killed, as were nine other LTTE fighters and eights soldiers, the army said.

According to the army, at least 13,000 LTTE rebels and 3,700 soldiers have been killed since the start of the latest campaign against the LTTE in August 2006. Those figures have not been confirmed independently.

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