Thousands of Civilians Flee Sri Lankan War Zone


The Sri Lankan military says thousands of civilians are braving Tamil rebel attacks to wade across a lagoon and escape the northern war zone. A military spokesman says at least 2,000 people managed to escape. Meanwhile, both sides in the civil war are brushing off a non-binding statement of the United Nations Security Council to protect the lives of tens of thousands of civilians trapped by the fighting.

Sri Lanka's military has released video showing aerial images of civilians fleeing across a lagoon to escape the war zone where government troops have surrounded the Tamil Tiger rebels. The military says the civilians were under fire from the rebels as they fled.

This comes as both sides in the civil war have ignored the U.N. Security Council's appeal to respect international humanitarian law, and continue to engage in a constant barrage of gunfire and shelling.

At stake are the lives of thousands of Tamil civilians trapped in a narrow sliver of territory, where the last remaining hard core rebel fighters are facing an army assault.

The government says its military offensive is also a hostage rescue operation.

"The very fact that we have to move inch by inch, fight man to man, street to street and ensuring that civilians are not affected by the fighting that takes place is enough testimony to the bona fides of what we have been saying - that this is a humanitarian operation," said Human Rights Minister Manhinda Samarasinghe.

Shelling in recent days is blamed for the deaths of hundreds of civilians, including children. But with no access by outsiders to the combat zone there is no way to definitively determine who is responsible and how many people have been killed. These scenes, which cannot be authenticated, were released by a pro-rebel network.

In remarks Wednesday about the situation, President Obama denounced the rebels' use of civilians as human shields but he also urged the Sri Lankan government to act responsibly. "The government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including several hospitals, and the government should live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone," the president said.

Government officials here bristle at suggestions they are using mortars in the two-square kilometer area where tens of thousands of civilians are trapped.

Minister Samarasinghe, in a VOA interview, blamed the rebels and their sympathizers for the reports. "This is a very clever propaganda ploy that they have been consistently employing internationally to cultivate the feeling that it is the Sri Lankan government forces who are in fact shelling," he said.

The military says it is the rebels who are, in fact, firing artillery and killing innocent people.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are giving no indication of surrender although they are surrounded by Sri Lankan forces.

The military is reluctant to pause while it is on the verge of crushing the rebels because that might hinder attempts to capture or kill Tamil Tiger leaders.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs