Civilians flee war zone as Sri Lanka rejects UN pressure (Lead)

May 14th, 2009 - 7:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, May 14 (DPA) More than 1,000 civilians have fled Tamil Tigers-held areas in north-eastern Sri Lanka Thursday, a military spokesman said.
At least 1,000 civilians escaped the combat zone by crossing a lagoon, and more people were fleeing from the narrow coastal strip of land held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the Mullaitivu district, 395 km north-east of Colombo, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government rejected UN calls to halt its offensive against the Tamil Tigers, saying it was not going to “succumb” to international pressure.

The UN Security Council had called for an end to the fighting, urging the government to ensure the safety of civilians and condemned the LTTE for its “acts of terrorism… and its continued use of civilians as human shields”.

More than 430 civilians were reported killed in shelling since Sunday with both the military and the rebels accusing each other of being responsible for the deaths.

The fresh flight of the civilians came as troops continued to advance into the conflict zone from the north and south, the military said. The LTTE have been pushed back into an area of 6 sq km, which also includes a government-designated “safety zone” for civilians.

On Wednesday, troops entered the safety zone for what the government said was an operation to rescue about 20,000 civilians trapped there, but UN agencies estimated that more than 50,000 civilians are trapped in the area.

Concerns are mounting that the trapped are running out of food and medicines. A Red Cross ship trying to unload 30 tonnes of food and evacuate the injured has failed to reach the area because of the heavy fighting.

The military said it is in the final phase of ending a military operation aimed at crushing the LTTE, which has been fighting for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils for 25 years.

Since January, more than 170,000 civilians have fled rebel-controlled areas as the military offensive shrank the ground held by the LTTE.

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