Sri Lankan rebels claim 1,000 civilians killed this week (Second Lead)

April 21st, 2009 - 6:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, April 21 (DPA) 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.

Meanwhile, security forces moved further into the rebel-held areas, capturing some of the last LTTE strongholds, including a police station that had been run by the Tamil Tigers.

Government troops also captured a coastal area held by the rebels which was used to unload food sent by the government and international agencies under the ICRC flag.

The Defence Ministry said the army killed four rebels in a clash in the Puthumathalan area, 395 km northeast of the capital.

The area was earlier designated a “no fire zone” by the government to protect civilians, but rebels and troops were now engaged in fighting in the area, the ministry said.

A medical doctor was among the civilians killed in the Puthumathalan area Tuesday, Thiyagaraja Sathiyamoorthy, another doctor based in the area, told DPA by telephone.

He said that he himself was forced to flee the makeshift hospital where he had been treating patients as the army had entered the area and taken control of the place.

Earlier in the day large numbers of civilians fled Tamil rebel-held areas in northeastern Sri Lanka for a second consecutive day, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

He said the exact number of civilians who arrived from the rebel-held areas in Puthumathalan was not known but people were continuing to arrive in the military-controlled areas.

On Monday, a record 39,081 civilians fled the rebel-held area using land and sea routes and more than 10,000 came Tuesday, he said.

Another 52 boats carrying civilians are heading towards a northern port, navy spokesman Commander D.K.P. Dassanayaka said.

The military facilitated their escape by breaking through earthworks put up by the separatist rebels to prevent security forces from entering.

The civilians continued to come in from what the government said is the last remaining rebel-held territory in Sri Lanka as a government deadline for rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his cadres to surrender ended at noon (0630 GMT).

Military officials said though there was no official reaction from the rebels, some of the rebels who had escaped with the civilians had surrendered to the security forces.

Nanayakkara said irrespective of the deadline, troops were continuing operations to rescue civilians and clear the area of LTTE rebels as soon as possible.

He said that according to available intelligence reports, Prabhakaran and his intelligence chief, Pottu Amman, were still in the area.

Rebels are now confined to less than 12 sq km on the coast of the Mullaitivu district, which includes the Putumathalan area, a government-demarcated safe zone, officials said.

Before Monday’s mass exodus, about 68,000 civilians had fled the rebel-held areas since January and were placed in camps awaiting resettlement.

The government has described the operation to get the civilians out of the rebel-held area as one of the biggest “hostage rescue operation” in the world because it accuses the rebels of preventing the civilians from fleeing.

It said three women suicide bombers Monday blew themselves up in the Puthumathalan area, killing 17 civilians and injuring 200, while people trying to escape claimed they were fired upon by the rebels to prevent them from leaving.

The LTTE, however, has accused the government of firing on civilians in the safe zone and forcing them into government territory.

Independent verification of these claims was not possible because the government has blocked journalists from the war zone.

The military said it is in the last phase of a 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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