More civilians flee Tamil rebel zone in Sri Lanka

April 22nd, 2009 - 3:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, April 22 (DPA) Refugees streamed out of the shrinking Tamil rebel-held areas again Wednesday as government troops tightened a cordon around the zone in north-eastern Sri Lanka, military spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.
Rambukwella told journalists that 81,420 civilian refugees had been counted since Monday in the Puthumathalan area, about 390 km north-east of the capital, and the exodus was continuing.

“We need to capture only eight more kilometres to regain full control of the area,” Rambukwella said, declining to give a number of the civilians remaining in the conflict zone.

Other sources estimated that there were at least 40,000 civilians in the territory still held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

A doctor based in the zone claimed the army was shelling some areas.

Thiyagaraja Sathiyamoorthy, a doctor, told DPA by telephone that a Roman Catholic priest was injured.

He said hundreds of injured civilians were in makeshift hospitals which do not have sufficient medical supplies.

The doctor also said they were expecting a shipment of food sent under the Red Cross flag, but was not sure where it would be unloaded as part of the coastline was under the control of government forces.

The exodus of civilians came as the military confronted the rebels in different locations the Puthumathalan area, killing at least 22 Tamil fighters Tuesday, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

All 22 bodies were recovered along with their weapons, he added.

The spokesman said the army intercepted rebel radio communications that said 14 guerrillas were killed and 22 others were injured.

The government was airlifting food supplies from the capital Colombo for refugees who have fled the rebel areas during the past two days.

The civilians are being put up in schools and government buildings in the northern part of the country.

Before Monday, an estimated 68,000 civilians had left the rebel areas and are currently in camps controlled by the government.

The military says it is in the final phase of a military drive to crush the LTTE, which has been fighting for more than 25 years for a separate state for the Tamil ethnic minority in the northern and eastern parts of majority-Sinhalese Sri Lanka.

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