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Sri Lanka rebels explode walls of reservoir

[IHT, Saturday, 24 January 2009 22:30 No Comment]

Tamil Tiger rebels used explosives to blast through the walls of a reservoir Saturday in an attempt to stall advancing Sri Lankan government troops, the military said.

 

The military claims to have won a string of major victories in recent months, including the capture of the Tamil Tiger administrative capital of Kilinochchi, effectively boxing the rebels into a pocket of land in the northeast.

 

The government has vowed to crush the rebel movement and end the Indian Ocean island nation’s 25-year-old civil war in the coming months.

 

On Saturday, Tamil guerrillas used explosives to destroy the walls of Kalmadukulam reservoir "in a desperate attempt" to stall a military advance on rebel-held Visuamdu, located in Mullaittivu district, the military said. Two villages were flooded as a result.

 

Details of damage caused by flooding were not immediately available and it was not possible to independently verify the military’s claims, as journalists have been banned from the war zone.

 

Rebel spokesmen could not be contacted for comment because communication to the north has been severed.

 

Separately, the military said soldiers pushed deep into Mullaittivu — the last remaining rebel stronghold — Friday and seized a training camp.

 

It did not provide casualty details.

 

Separately, soldiers clashed with rebels in Chundikulam village in the same district and hours later recovered the bodies of two rebel fighters, the statement said.

 

As fighting intensifies, aid groups and diplomats have expressed fears for the safety of hundreds of thousands of civilians reportedly trapped in rebel-held territory.

 

The rebel-affiliated Web site TamilNet said five civilians were killed Friday and 83 wounded when the army fired artillery shells into a government-declared "safe zone" for displaced families.

 

A doctor in the area confirmed Saturday that five civilians were killed in the shelling. He told The Associated Press that 27 were wounded in the attack. He spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.

 

The military denied firing into the civilian settlements and launching attacks on the "safe zone." It accused the rebels of carrying out the assault themselves to keep civilians out of the area.

 

Human rights organizations have accused the rebels of using the civilians as human shields to block the government offensive.

 

On Friday, the U.N. expressed growing concern for the civilians trapped in the north and called on the rebels to let them leave.

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