Central & South Asia
Civilians flee Sri Lanka fighting
Government says more than 1,500 people fled war zone in north of country on Tuesday.
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2009 11:57 GMT

A pro-Tamil website said the government had attacked areas in the safe zone on Tuesday [AFP]

More than 1,500 civilians have fled the fighting in northern Sri Lanka on Tuesday, the government says.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped in a narrow stretch of land along the island's northeast coast where government troops are fighting rebels from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

A government statement said that 1,515 people, including about 650 children, had crossed into military-controlled areas late on Tuesday near Puthkkudiyirippu, where fighting has been raging for weeks.

Tamilnet, the pro-Tamil website, said the Sri Lankan army had shelled areas within the so-called safety zone early on Tuesday morning, killing 62 civilians and causing many injuires.

The Tamilnet report said more than 250 civilians have been admitted to a makeshift hospital in Puthkkudiyirippu.

The government said Puthkkudiyirippu is one of the last areas held by the LTTE, who have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the island's north and east.

Trapped civilians

LTTE fighters are reportedly confined to about 28 square kilometres of jungle and beach on the northeastern coast.

Risks to civilians have led the United Nations, European Union and numerous countries to voice concern.

The UN has said 2,800 civilians caught in the fighting have been killed since late January, though the government disputes that figure.

The UN estimates at least 150,000 civilians are trapped in the war zone. The government says the number is closer to 50,000 to 60,000 people, and accuses the LTTE of using them as human shields in a bid to avoid defeat.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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