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3,000 civilians flee Sri Lanka war zone: military

[AFP, Sunday, 19 April 2009 09:51 No Comment]

Nearly 3,000 civilians escaped from Sri Lanka’s war zone and sought shelter with security forces, the defence ministry said on Sunday as troops stepped up an offensive against cornered Tiger rebels.

The non-combatants escaped on Saturday evening from the remaining area under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the ministry said in a statement.

 

"The civilians started arriving in large groups since (Saturday) afternoon using the safe routes opened for them by troops," the ministry said.

 

The influx into government-held territory was in contrast to the trickle of civilians that came through when the military observed a unilateral two-day truce earlier in the week, the ministry noted.

 

Security forces kept up their offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels trapped in a government-declared "no-fire zone," ignoring international appeals for a ceasefire.

 

The United Nations says up to 100,000 civilians are trapped in the area in "dire humanitarian conditions."

Officials said the government had made it clear to a top UN envoy that Sri Lanka was not willing to extend its unilateral ceasefire and instead asked the international community to put pressure on the rebels to free the civilians.

 

The government has accused the Tigers of holding tens of thousands of civilians as a human shield, a charge denied by the guerrillas who are trying to prevent a total defeat after fighting for 37 years for a separate state.

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