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Official: 38 civilians killed in Sri Lankan war

[AP, Wednesday, 18 February 2009 14:37 No Comment]

A Sri Lankan health official says at least 38 civilians have been killed and 140 others wounded in government artillery attacks and air raids on a tiny rebel-controlled territory that includes a government designated "no-fire zone."

 

Dr. Thurairaja Varatharaja, who works in the embattled region, says 13 members of an extended family were killed early Wednesday when artillery hit their home in Idaikkadu village.

 

He says the village is in a government designated "no-fire zone."

 

He says another 25 dead bodies were brought to his hospital after the air force carried out two raids Wednesday. He says witnesses said as many as 80 civilians may have been killed in the strikes.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara denies targeting civilians saying that the military only hit rebel positions.

 

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan naval boats accompanied an emergency Red Cross shipment of food aid for tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the northeastern war zone Wednesday as the Tamil Tiger rebels once again appealed for a halt to the war and a new round of peace talks.

 

Government forces — pledging to end the quarter-century civil war — have pushed the rebels to the brink of defeat in recent weeks, seizing their strongholds across the north and trapping them in a 39-square mile (100-square kilometer) strip of land along the coast.

 

Aid groups estimate about 200,000 civilians are stuck in heavy fighting, though the government says the number is less than 100,000. The government has denied accusations it shelled areas filled with civilians, while the rebels denied reports they shot at families trying to escape.

 

Rebel political chief Balasingham Nadesan accused the government of creating a humanitarian crisis in the area, and denied U.N. accusations that it was recruiting child soldiers and holding the local civilian population as human shields against the government offensive.

 

"The U.N. is accusing the wrong side in addressing the concerns of the people," he told the rebel-linked TamilNet Web site.

 

He also appealed for a truce, saying "the war has to be stopped immediately, paving way for negotiations."

Defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella rejected new calls for a cease-fire.

 

The United Nations said earlier this week that those caught in the fighting were facing severe shortages of food, medicine and clean water. An increasing number have fallen ill.

 

The Red Cross said it was sending 30 tons of dry rations to the civilians in the north. Aid workers say a minimum of 2,500 tons a month is required to feed the civilians trapped there.

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