The latest photographs released by the military showed people arriving at beaches carrying their belongings in bundles on their heads. Mothers held infants and some carried sick relatives as they disembarked from the boats they used to flee the fighting. The navy has been escorting those vessels into government territory. The U.N. and humanitarian groups called for an immediate stop to the fighting, so more civilians could escape. Over the past three days, the military says more than 80,000 have fled after forces broke through a key rebel embankment protecting their territory.
The government has ignored those calls, saying for weeks it was on the verge of crushing the rebels as troops ousted them from their former strongholds and hemmed them into a tiny strip of coastal land.
The government had previously deemed that area a "no fire" zone to protect civilians. But troops after breaking through the embankment, entered the zone and captured part of it during fighting Monday and Tuesday. At least 43 rebels were killed, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
With this week's advances, the area under rebel control has shrunk to just five miles (eight kilometers) along the northeastern coast, he said, and two rebel officials surrendered to troops. The rebels' former media spokesman, whose nom de guerre is Daya Master, and an interpreter for the insurgents' political wing, known only as George, turned themselves over to the army yesterday. Both played prominent public relations roles during a now-defunct peace process mediated by Norway.
Nanayakkara said the former spokesman is the most senior rebel official to surrender so far. But he said the rest of the rebels were still resisting the army's advance. He said there were casualties among government troops, but did not provide details.
The U.N. estimates that more than 4,500 civilians have been killed in the past three months and has called for a negotiated truce to allow others to leave the shrinking rebel-held enclave. On Tuesday, the rebels accused the government of killing 1,000 civilians in their latest offensive - a charge the military denies.
Dr. Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi, one of the few doctors working in the war zone, said the bodies of 80 civilians were brought to two makeshift hospitals soon after Monday's raid but said more people were probably buried on the spot.