Thousands of civilians remain trapped in Sri Lankan war zone
The UN evacuated about 300 people Thursday but human rights groups say a humanitarian crisis is looming.
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The defense secretary's remarks came a day after the Sri Lankan authorities vowed to respect safe zones and protect Tamil civilians, reports Bloomberg.Skip to next paragraph
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Sri Lanka is trying to minimize the effect of the conflict on Tamils and will respect the "safe zones" declared for civilians by the security forces, President Mahinda Rajapaksa told India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee after talks in Colombo two days ago.
However, the Associated Press reports that civilians in safe zones have also been wounded during the military offensive.
Dr. Thurairajah Varatharajah, the top health official in the war zone, said at least 1,140 civilians were wounded in the past week and estimated at least 250 were killed in the fighting.
The United Nations said some staff members and their relatives were huddled in a bunker over the weekend in a government designated "safe zone" when artillery shells landed nearby and killed nine people taking shelter 10 meters (30 feet) away.
An internal U.N. memo said the shells were apparently fired by government forces.
Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara has said no civilians had been killed, but that some people who were forced by the rebels to build fortifications might have been wounded in crossfire.
Civilian casualties are rising as the Sri Lankan Army offensive continues and the conflict zone shrinks. According to the Associated Press, a key northern crossroad and several rebel bases were also captured on Thursday.
Ground troops overran the Vishwamadu junction on Wednesday afternoon after heavy fighting with the rebels, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. The junction, just outside the village of Vishwamadu, lies along one of the few major roads remaining in rebel-held territory.
The army also captured several rebel camps – including a bunker complex with a luxury room and conference hall – in fighting throughout the day Wednesday, the military said.
As a result of the intensifying military offensive, LTTE forces are fleeing the area, reports the Indian daily The Hindu.
According to military sources, troops have also gained control over a 10-km stretch of the road, running North of Visuamadu via Puliyampokkanai towards Chundikkulama. Troops are now engaged in mopping up the remaining LTTE resistances south of Visuamadu and Piramanthal Kulama, the Defence Ministry said.
"LTTE cadres unable to withstand the military onslaught have further fled towards the declared safer zones at Teravilkulam and Udayarkattukulama," military sources said.