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Sri Lankan army shelling civilians: Rights group

world Updated: Mar 24, 2009 11:03 IST

Indiscriminate army shelling is killing dozens of civilians every day in a no-fire zone in northern Sri Lanka where Tamil Tiger rebels are staging a last stand, a rights group said on Tuesday.

"We receive reports of civilians being killed and wounded daily in the no-fire zone, while the Sri Lankan government continues to deny the attacks," said Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The Tamil Tigers' use of civilians as human shields "adds to the bloodshed," Adams said.

A doctor at a hospital in Putumattalan, inside the government-declared "no-fire zone," told Human Rights Watch over the phone that dozens of dead and wounded civilians were being brought to the hospital daily.

Human Rights Watch said as many as 150,000 Tamil civilians remained trapped in the narrow stretch of coastal territory where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been cornered by a massive military offensive.

According to the UN, more than 2,800 civilians may have been killed and more than 7,240 injured in the fighting since January 20.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay recently warned that both sides in the conflict could be guilty of war crimes and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse to halt army shelling.

Colombo has denied any targeting of civilians and dismissed the reports of non-combatant deaths as exaggerated.

"The Sri Lankan government has responded to broad international concerns with indignation and denials instead of action to address the humanitarian crisis," said Adams.

The rights group also called on the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone. The rebels have been accused of shooting those who try to escape.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent state in the island's northeast. Their mini-state was dismantled by security forces earlier this year with the capture of their political and military headquarters.