Over 900 civilians leave LTTE-held areas in Sri Lanka


Colombo : Over 900 civilians left the Tamil rebel-controlled areas in northern Sri Lanka over the weekend as fierce fighting continued between government troops and the rebels, military officials said Sunday.

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A group of civilians had left on their own while others were helped by the International Committee of the Red Cross to leave the Mullaitivu area, 395 km northeast of the capital, by sea.

Military officials said 423 civilians had travelled Saturday by the ship Green Ocean to reach the northeastern port city of Trincomalee, an area 60 km south of where the fighting was continuing.

A group of 592 civilians including children and women who had left the rebel controlled areas reached a military forward defence line Saturday and later moved to a camp for internally-displaced persons.

The movement of civilians out of areas controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrillas during the past two weeks has dwindled compared to last month when thousands of civilians left the area.

The military claims that rebels are forcibly holding back civilians in an area less than 40 sq km.

The government says some 70,000 civilians are trapped in the area, but UN agencies say there may be around 150,000 civilians in the area.

Local and international organisations have called upon the government and rebels to stop fighting in view of the large number of civilians present, but the appeals have not drawn any response from either side.