Sri Lanka
War-weary Tamils flee in Sri Lanka
Jan 19, 2007 - 3:52:22 PM

Colombo, Jan 19 - Thousands living in and around a hospital in northeastern Sri Lanka have started fleeing the area in fear of government troops recapturing the rebel region, reports said Friday.

An estimated 15,000 civilians occupying the hospital in Vakarai, 280 km northeast of Colombo, and surrounding areas started leaving Friday morning and are continuing to advance towards government-controlled areas.

An official in Batticaloa, the closest main town to Vakarai, confirmed that the last few remaining civilians were moving out and arrangements were being made to accommodate them in welfare centres.

On Thursday the military claimed that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam - had launched artillery fire from the vicinity of the Vakarai hospital after seizing the hospital.

Heavy casualties were inflicted at the hospital in recent attacks by security forces.

'Intelligence sources have revealed that the LTTE is forcibly detaining civilians around the hospital as a human shield in order to ensure speedy medical care for wounded cadres,' the defence ministry said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross - Thursday expressed concern about the shelling and fighting in Vakarai area due to the presence of civilians around the hospital.

The ICRC called on both the military and rebels to protect the hospital and civilians.

More than 30,000 civilians living in Vakarai have been fleeing due to continuous military operations in the past seven weeks and have entered government-controlled areas.

Vakarai area is strategically located between the northern and eastern provinces and its capture would prevent the free movement of the rebels between the two provinces.

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