52,000 flee rebel-held area as LTTE ignores surrender deadline (Fourth Lead)

April 21st, 2009 - 7:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, April 21 (IANS) Men, women and children, some sick and some too old to even walk… It was a mass exodus from the Tamil Tigers held area in Sri Lanka’s north with an estimated 52,000 people fleeing with whatever they could carry as the rebels failed Tuesday to meet Colombo’s 24 hour deadline to surrender and troops forced their way into the no-fire-zone.
Television reports showed thousands of civilians fleeing the rebel held area, a mass exodus that began Monday.

The state-run Daily News described the process a “human avalanche”, while the independent Daily Mirror called it a “great escape”.

Men, women and children moved towards the military controlled areas. Most carried a small bag, perhaps their sole belonging.

The defence ministry said that 58 Division troops “entered into the areas of Puthumanthalam and Amapalavanpokkanai in the no-fire-zone (NFZ)” Tuesday morning from where they had rescued over 31,000 civilians the day before.

“Now, the troops have established their positions across the NFZ from Puthumathalan to the beachhead. The manoeuver has saved lives of several thousands civilians trapped in the area extending from Puthumathalan north to the northern border of the NFZ,” the ministry said in a report Tuesday.

It said that at least four LTTE cadres, including a local area leader, were reported killed and an armour plated vehicle was destroyed “when troops raided an LTTE gathering position east of Puthumathalan” Tuesday morning.

Tamil Tigers Tuesday failed to meet the noon deadline set by Colombo to surrender as the outfit faced an unprecedented military thrust in its last stronghold in the north-eastern Mullaitivu district.

“The LTTE terrorists have not surrendered during the ultimatum. But the people who were held hostage by the LTTE in a small strip of coastal land in the Mullaitivu district continue to arrive in the government-held areas in large numbers since Monday,” military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS minutes after the deadline expired.

Brig. Nanayakkara said that the number of civilians who had come to government-held areas from the no-fire-zone has gone past 52,000 and added that the rescue operation was “in full swing”.

Closing in on the last Tamil Tiger stronghold, Sri Lanka Monday ordered elusive rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and his fighters to surrender by Tuesday noon or face death.

“We have issued the last and final 24-hour ultimatum to Prabhakaran and his group to surrender. Otherwise, they will have to face the military course of action,” defence ministry spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters Monday.

The ultimatum to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came a few hours after the defence authorities said over 35,000 civilians fled Sri Lanka’s northern war zone Monday following the capture of the three-km long earth bund built by the LTTE on the western border of the NFZ.

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