Sri Lankan military claims rebels cornered in shrinking enclaveMay 5th, 2009 - 2:47 pm ICT by IANS
Colombo, May 5 (DPA) Government troops have confined Tamil Tigers to a 4.5 sq km strip in northeastern Sri Lanka where a final battle to rescue civilians trapped in the area is under way, the defence ministry said Tuesday.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been confined to an area known as Rektavikkal, 395 km north-east of Colombo, in the Mullaitivu district after several days of fighting which the government said is the final phase of crushing the LTTE.
The government estimated that 20,000 civilians remained trapped in the area, but UN agencies said the figure is around 50,000.
The government has accused the LTTE of holding the civilians against their will as human shields while the rebels have accused the military of attacks that have killed scores of civilians.
But Tuesday, the defence ministry said the movement of its troops into the final rebel enclave in the country has been slowed during the past five days as troops were moving cautiously because of the presence of civilians.
The military claimed that the rebels, who have been fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the north-east for more than 25 years, were firing mortars and artillery from the area.
There was no independent confirmation from the area, where journalists and relief workers are banned by the government.
Since April 20, the government has helped to rescue about 115,000 civilians who were trapped in the rebel-held area, it said. Another 73,000 fled the area from January to April.
The civilians who fled the area were being accommodated in welfare centres maintained by the government.
The government has taken the first steps to resettle the displaced in their original villages. The first such batch of 411 civilians was settled in a north-western village Friday.
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