U.N. says it is ``deeply concerned'' about trapped civilians in Sri Lanka
Tue December 12, 2006 01:25 EST .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) The United Nations said Tuesday it was ``deeply concerned'' about indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas in Sri Lanka - 's east where tens of thousands of civilians, most Tamils, are caught in fighting.
An estimated 35,000 civilians are trapped in eastern Batticaloa, as the Sri Lankan military and the rebels fight over territory. On Monday, the military said a fierce daylong artillery and mortar battle in the area had killed 24 soldiers and 40 rebels.
``The critical need of the moment is the protection of these desperate civilians,'' the world body said in a statement. ``The United Nations is deeply concerned about indiscriminate shelling of civilian residential areas, leading to death, injuries and evacuation of communities out of danger zones.''
The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it had evacuated 30 wounded civilians, including seven children, from Vaharai village, the worst hit, in Batticaloa district to hospital in safer areas on Monday.
Civilian casualties have mounted in recent clashes between government forces and guerillas from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, while both sides have denied responsibility.
The government's Media Center for National Security accused rebels of moving their heavy guns into areas where hundreds of civilians are forcibly detained by insurgents.
``Since last Thursday, the LTTE was trying to provoke the army to retaliate toward their gun positions whilst detaining thousands of civilians close to them,'' said the media center, adding that the army had deployed ground forces instead of using artillery attacks to prevent civilian casualties.
A sharp spike in violence this year has killed at least 3,500 fighters and civilians, leaving a 2002 cease-fire in effect only on paper.
The Tigers have been fighting for more than 20 years for a separate homeland for the island nation's 3.1 million ethnic Tamil minority, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
The government says it is willing to give autonomy to areas where Tamils are in the majority in the north and northeast, but the rebels want sweeping changes that the government says will infringe on the country's sovereignty.
On the net: www.nationalsecurity.lk
Published: Tue Dec 12 08:26:45 EST 2006