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Sri Lanka presses offensive against rebels

world Updated: May 04, 2009 16:28 IST
Sri Lanka presses offensive against rebels

Sri Lankan forces battled Tamil Tiger insurgents from three sides Monday, pushing deeper into rebel-held territory in its bid to end this island nation's quarter-century civil war, the military said.

Meanwhile, a new round of international officials came to Colombo amid growing concerns for tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone and roughly 200,000 who have already fled and been moved into overwhelmed displacement camps.

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, despite growing international concern for the fate of the civilians in the war zone.

The government, which has been accused of violating a pledge not to use heavy weapons in the area, has accused the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields. Both sides deny the accusations. 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.