Tuesday, February 17, 2009

UN says 'civilians killed' by LTTE

Tamil rebels have prevented thousands of civilians from leaving Sri Lanka's war zone and also used force against them, the UN says.

The LTTE, or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is holding non-combatants in a patch of coastal jungle in the northeast of the island, where they have been cornered by government forces, the world body said in a statement on Monday.

It said: "A growing number of people trying to leave have been shot and sometimes killed."

The LTTE is also recruiting child soldiers as young as 14 years old, the UN said.

It urged both the LTTE and government forces to work harder to ensure that civilians are not killed by disease and the continuing fighting.

Government forces say they are on the verge of routing the LTTE after more than 25 years of civil war.

But more than 200,000 civilians are trapped in the conflict zone as the Sri Lankan army moves against the Tigers.

The LTTE says it is fighting for an independent state for minority Tamils in Sri Lanka, a majority Sinhalese nation.

Conflicting accounts

The UN said in its statement that it welcomed a declaration made last week by the Sri Lankan army of a larger "safe zone" for civilians on the country's northern coastline, but noted that there had been fighting even within that area.

"Reports from yesterday indicate that there was some fighting inside the zone. This fighting led to the deaths and injury to yet more civilians," the UN said.

"The United Nations calls for the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE to refrain from fighting in areas of civilian concentration."

But Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a Sri Lankan army spokesman, said there had been no fighting on Sunday in the new no-fire zone.

"There is no resistance from the area, and there are no confrontations there," he said.

Sick evacuated

Some sick and injured civilians were evacuated from the no-fire zone on Monday by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

About 400 injured and their accompanying relatives were shipped out for "further medical treatment," Sarasi Wijeratne, a ICRC spokeswoman, said.

The ICRC earlier said that a "humanitarian catastrophe" was unfolding in the region where "hundreds" of civilians perished this year.

The aid organisation carried out similar sea evacuations twice last week, bringing 745 wounded from Puttumattalan, within the government-declared safe zone, to the government-controlled northeastern seaport of Trincomalee.

More than 70,000 people have been killed over the course of Sri Lanka's civil war.

(Courtesy: Al Jazeera)