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About 5,000 flee Sri Lanka war zone, bomb wounds 17

[Reuters, Monday, 20 April 2009 06:43 No Comment]

At least 5,000 people burst out of Sri Lanka’s tiny war zone on Monday, after soldiers broke through a long earthen wall the Tamil Tiger rebels built to stall their advance, the military said.


A suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber set off an explosion among the throng of people and wounded at least 17, military sources told Reuters.


The wall of earth had blocked the widest land link to the coastal strip where Sri Lanka’s military has surrounded the Tigers with the goal of crushing them and ending a civil war that has raged since 1983 and is now Asia’s longest-running.


"Troops captured the earth bund and so far 5,000 people have been rescued. It is still going on," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.


The no-fire zone is a 17-square-km (6.5-sq-mile) area of coconut groves, where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists are fighting their last stand from among tens of thousands of civilians they have held there by force.


During Monday’s exodus, a suicide blast went off, although a military spokesman denied it had happened.

"There had been an explosion. It was a suicide explosion. There are about 17 reported injured," a military source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Two other military sources confirmed the blast and the initial toll.


An LTTE female suicide bomber in February exploded herself at a refugee reception center, killing at least 28 and wounding nearly 100 others. But that has not stopped the exodus of people — around 70,000 have fled LTTE areas since January.


The Sri Lankan government has been under heavy Western pressure to call a ceasefire to protect people in the no-fire zone, since the LTTE has rejected all international calls to let them go and insists civilians are staying by choice.


Sri Lanka has rejected further calls for a truce after the expiration of a 48-hour pause last week, saying the Tigers only used it to bolster their defenses and make it harder for people to escape.


The state-run Daily News said 15,000 people had fled on Monday, which Nanayakkara denied.

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