- Video: ''Catastrophe'' in Sri Lanka (Reuters)
The United Nations estimated more than 4,500 civilians have been killed in the past three months. The separatists said more than 1,000 civilians died Monday in a government raid, while the government said it rescued thousands after they broke through a barrier built by the insurgents that protects their last stronghold.
Human rights groups say the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are holding many people in the enclave against their will and using them as human shields. Those groups have also accused the government of indiscriminate shelling in the region. Both sides deny the allegations.
Thousands of civilians also fled in packed small boats, and they were picked up by navy patrols and transported to camps where Tamils who have escaped the war are being held. More than 2,000 people in about 100 boats were picked up Monday.
The Red Cross said about 50,000 civilians were still stranded, while Human Rights Watch put the number between 50,000 and 100,000.
A worker for Doctors Without Borders said hundreds of wounded were arriving at her hospital in Vavuniya, south of the war zone, in government-arranged buses, and some had died en route. The hospital is overcrowded with 1,200 people being accommodated in a facility with only 400 beds, said mental health officer Karen Stewart, according to a statement from the aid group.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres was concerned about the "dramatic situation" for civilians still in the war zone, said commission spokesman Ron Redmond.
"There are innocent civilians — women and children — caught in the middle of the conflict...so the high commissioner is saying there should be a pause in the hostilities and the LTTE should allow civilians to leave," Redmond said. More>>