Sri Lanka's army says it is moving ahead with a military operation to wipe out
the Tamil Tiger rebels after they ignored an ultimatum to surrender. The
government says nearly 50,000 civilians trapped in the war zone have fled. But
concerns for the safety of civilians still stranded in the area are
Soon after the
deadline for the Tamil Tigers to surrender passed at noon Tuesday, the army said
it captured more territory from the rebels.
The military says it is now
in the final stages of an operation to eliminate the rebels who are confined to
a narrow sliver of coastal land in the northeast.
The presence of tens
of thousands of civilians with rebel fighters had deterred the army from moving
into the area. But the government says there has been an exodus of civilians
from the war zone since forces opened an exit route by breaching an earthen
The head of the Media Center for National Security, Lakshman
Hulugalle says 10,000 civilians had crossed over from the war zone to government
controlled areas by noon Tuesday in addition to the 40,000 who fled on
He says the army is waiting for the remaining civilians to come
over before it launches an all out assault against the rebels, also known as the
"The forces are going into those areas, and they are proceeding
with their own military plans, and our main objective is to get the balance
people," said Hulugale. "We believe that there is something like close to
20,000, or a little more than 20,000 left in those areas. Once we get those
people, it is a matter of time, a few hours or a day or something to defeat the
But the exodus of civilians, although large, has done
little to ease the concerns of the international community and rights groups,
which fear the numbers who remain stranded are far larger than government
In a statement Tuesday, the International Committee of the
Red Cross called the situation "catastrophic" and said there could be a
"dramatic increase in civilian casualties" in the final offensive by the army.
Human Rights Watch has warned that many more civilians will die unless both the
rebels and the government show greater concern for their safety. The
International Crisis Group called the situation a "humanitarian
In a statement on Tuesday, the rebels said a "bloodbath" is
prevailing in the war zone, and accused government forces of killing more than
1,000 civilians and wounding another 2,300 in heavy fighting the previous day.
The government denied the allegations.
Sri Lanka authorities have
rejected all calls for a temporary truce to protect the civilians, saying the
rebels are not allowing the civilians to leave.
The country's top
leaders have said they are confident of putting an end to the nation's
three-decade long ethnic conflict very soon.