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War fears leading to exodus in Lanka

Over 24,000 Tamils have fled the LTTE-controlled and war-affected Vaharai in Batticaloa, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2006 18:03 IST

Over 24,000 Tamils have fled the LTTE-controlled and war-affected Vaharai in the Eastern Sri Lankan district of Batticaloa fearing intensification of hostilities and are seeking shelter in the government-controlled parts of the district, the media reported on Tuesday.

The state-owned Daily News quoted a military official as saying that the number of people who had fled the LTTE-controlled parts of Batticaloa constituted 60 per cent of the population of those parts.

The government says that this is happening because the LTTE has been callously using civilians (many of them refugees from Sampur in Trincomalee district) as a "human shield" in the fighting against the Security Forces for the past few weeks.

The LTTE would fire artillery or mortars from civilian areas, including refugees camps, and expect the Security Forces to retaliate and kill civilians, which it would then use to malign the government and the forces before human rights activists and the international community.

The government's appeal to the LTTE to remove these guns or the civilians had fallen on deaf ears.

At one stage, the Security Forces stopped using artillery and deployed only ground forces.

While this reduced civilian casualties, it impeded the progress of the troops towards the goal - the strategically important coastal town and environs of Vaharai.

LTTE's version

The LTTE, however, has a different story. It said in a statement that the government was deliberately forcing the civilians to quit Vaharai so that it could capture the area with less difficulty.

The ouster of civilians violated Art.17.2 of the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 which forbade the two parties to displace civilians forcibly, the LTTE pointed out.

The international community should create safe havens in Vaharai itself so that the civilians were not forced to go to government-controlled areas and face other problems there. And these safe havens should be monitored, the LTTE said.

It pointed out that many of the civilians in Vaharai were actually refugees from Sampur which the Security Forces had captured some months ago.

"The flushing out plan is not about flushing out LTTE, it is about displacing all Tamils," Reuters quotes the LTTE's military spokesman Rasaiah Ilanthirayan alias Marshall, as saying.