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Sri Lanka presses offensive against rebels

 In this undated photo provided Monday, May 4,  2009,  by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils ar...
 In this undated photo provided Monday, May 4, 2009,  by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils are...
 In this undated photo provided Monday, May 4, 2009,  by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils are...
 In this undated photo provided Monday, May 4, 2009, by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils are ...

Sri Lanka Civil War

In this undated photo provided Monday, May 4, 2009, by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils ar...

Sri Lanka Civil War

In this undated photo provided Monday, May 4, 2009, by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils are...

Sri Lanka Civil War

In this undated photo provided Monday, May 4, 2009, by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils are...

Sri Lanka Civil War

In this undated photo provided Monday, May 4, 2009, by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), displaced Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils are ...

Sri Lankan forces battled Tamil Tiger insurgents from three sides Monday, the military said, pushing deeper into rebel-held territory amid a report that navy gunboats heavily shelled an area packed with civilians.
With concerns growing for the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone, a new round of international officials came to Colombo to meet with the government. Another 200,000 civilians who already fled the fighting have overwhelmed displacement camps in the north.
The military said it captured an earthen fortification from the rebels in heavy fighting Sunday along the borders of the 2.8-mile-long (4.5-kilometer-long) coastal strip remaining under rebel control. Troops pushed further forward Monday, it said.
"Troops are moving slowly into the area from the west, the north and the south," military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
The government has vowed to crush the rebel group and end the country's quarter-century civil war. Out of deference for the civilians in the war zone, the government promised last week to cease using artillery, mortar fire and airstrikes.
However, health officials in the region have reported continued shelling, including an attack on a makeshift hospital that killed 64 patients and bystanders Saturday.
The hospital was nearly hit again Sunday night, when shells landed around 300 feet (100 meters) away, said the top government health official in the war zone, Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah. That attack scared off much of the remaining staff in the only medical facility left in the area, he said.
Navy gunboats also fired scores of shells along the coast Monday morning as desperately hungry families crowded the shore to buy fish from returning fishermen, Varatharajah said by telephone from the region as a blast echoed in the distance.
Varatharajah said a father and daughter who lived near his home were killed by a shell as they headed to a well to wash themselves.
There were no accurate counts of the dead and wounded because the hospital's registrar was wounded herself in the attack on the hospital Saturday, he said.
The military has repeatedly denied shelling the area, saying troops are using only small arms in the battle.
Many in the area are struggling for food, and several elderly people are dying everyday from starvation, he said.
A rebel-linked aid group is providing some food, but the situation has grown so desperate that thieves strangled a shopworker Sunday night and stole 330 pounds (150 kilograms) of supplies from him, Varatharajah said.
Aid groups accuse the rebels of holding an estimated 50,000 civilians as human shields, a charge the rebels deny.
Canada's minister of international cooperation, Beverly Oda, met Monday with Sri Lankan officials in Colombo to discuss the situation.
A delegation of five British lawmakers also arrived for a two-day visit that would include meetings with officials, the opposition, aid groups and a trip to the displacement camps in the north.
The delegation includes a former defense secretary, Des Browne, who was named in February as Britain's special envoy to Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka rejected his appointment, underscoring its refusal to bow to foreign pressure on the war.
Last week, the foreign ministers of Britain and France traveled here to appeal for a cease-fire in the fighting, which the government rejected.


Updated : 2020-11-30 16:46 GMT+08:00