Over 49,000 flee LTTE-held area as deadline to surrender ends (Third Lead)

April 21st, 2009 - 7:02 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 50,000 people fleeing with whatever they could carry as the rebels failed Tuesday to meed the noon deadline to surrender.
Over 49,000 people had fled the area, authorities in Colombo said.

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 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 spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS minutes after the deadline expired.

“Over 49,000 people have fled the LTTE-held areas and come into the government-held areas in Puthukkudiyiruppu since Monday morning,” Nanayakkara said.

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 spokesperson 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.

The mass rescue operation reached a significant phase when troops captured the three-km long earth bund built by the LTTE on the western border of the no fire zone (NFZ).

Newspapers here have carried photographs of large number of people leaving the rebel-held territory.

DPA adds: Tamil rebels claimed Tuesday that as many as 1,000 civilians were killed and 2,300 injured in military operations carried out in northern Sri Lanka since Monday, prompting nearly 50,000 to flee the area.

The rebels made an urgent appeal to the UN and international organisations, saying civilian casualties were mounting due the Sri Lankan army’s move to evacuate civilians from the war zone.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said it had made an appeal to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to evacuate the injured.

Sri Lankan military officials denied rebel claims of casualties caused by army operations aimed at rescuing civilians.

–Indo-Asian News Service


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