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Fighting Intensifies in Sri Lanka

[NYTimes, Monday, 6 April 2009 09:27 No Comment]

The government of Sri Lanka and ethnic Tamil fighters ignored a call by the secretary general of the United Nations for a cease-fire in their ongoing war Monday as soldiers battled guerrillas in hand-to-hand fighting inside a so-called safety zone that had been set up as a haven for civilians.

 

The government said on its Defense Ministry Web site that it had killed more than 250 Tamil Tigers during weekend fighting and 420 more in foiling an ambush Monday morning. A pro-rebel site said that Sri Lankan shelling of the no-fire zone had killed at least 71 civilians and wounded 143 over the weekend.

Also Monday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected the possibility of a cease-fire and called on the rebels to surrender.

 

The government said its troops had taken control of the Puthukkudiyiruppu area, the rebels’ last remaining stronghold at the edge of the safety zone. A general said Sunday that the rebels had been driven into the safety zone, a small strip of beachfront jungle in the country’s northeast.

 

The military said the Tamil Tigers, also known as the L.T.T.E., for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, were now facing “total annihilation” as fighting at close quarters continued in “the last terror pocket.”

Confirmation of conditions on the ground was not possible because the government has blocked independent journalists and most international aid workers from reaching the area.

 

In his call Sunday for an immediate cease-fire, the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, expressed concern for as many as 190,000 civilians trapped inside the safety zone, which is now estimated to be smaller than 5.5 square miles.

 

The U.N. and relief agencies have said the Tigers are using children in the safety zone as soldiers and laborers while preventing civilians from fleeing the zone, effectively using them as shields. The government also said the Tigers have built military fortifications inside the zone.

 

The Tigers, meanwhile, accuse Sri Lankan artillery units of shelling the no-fire zone, a charge the government has denied. Human Rights Watch also has reported on the government’s shelling of civilians; the group said last month that more than 2,700 civilians have reportedly been killed this year.

 

TamilNet, the pro-rebel site, on Monday quoted a medical staffer in a makeshift surgical center as saying “death in most brutal form has become common within the safety zone. The area littered with mangled bodies, torn limbs, and blood-soaked soil appears more horrific than what one finds inside a butcher’s shop.”

 

Six weeks ago, the L.T.T.E. political chief said the Tigers might be willing to accept an internationally brokered cease-fire although they would not surrender their weapons as part of any truce. The government quickly rejected that offer.

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