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    Thousands flee from Sri Lankan war zone

    Hurriyet Daily News with wires
    22.04.2009 - 00:00 | Son Güncelleme: 21.04.2009 - 19:16

    COLOMBO - Thousands more civilians streamed out of the war zone in Sri Lanka yesterday, the military said, bringing the exodus of the past two days to nearly 50,000 as a government deadline passed for separatist Tamil rebels to surrender.

    The operation gathered speed after the military's noon (0630 GMT) deadline for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, to surrender passed with the rebels ignoring it, in what appears to be the final act in Asia's longest-running war. The rebels will never surrender, a senior official told Reuters yesterday, urging the international community to intervene by forcing a permanent cease-fire, which Sri Lanka has ruled out. "LTTE will fight and we have the confidence that we will win with the help of the Tamil people," Seevaratnam Puleedevan, secretary-general of the LTTE peace secretariat, told Reuters by telephone.

    Puleedevan accused the military of using Tamil civilians as human shields, an accusation the United Nations, a host of western countries and people who have escaped LTTE-held areas have made against the rebels.

    But, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara firmly rejected the accusation. Puleedevan also accused the government of killing 1,000 people and wounding 2,000 on Monday via shelling. The fresh fighting in the island's northeast saw the government effectively slice the last small strip of coastal jungle held by LTTE in two, the defense ministry said.

    "With this latest surge in fighting, our greatest fear is that the worst is yet to come," The Associated Press quoted Daniel Toole, the U.N. Children's Fund South Asia director, as saying. The International Red Cross also warned that the final offensive "could lead to a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties."
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