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Sri Lanka hospital shelled, at least 9 dead: ICRC
Mon Feb 2, 2009 9:33am EST
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By Ranga Sirilal
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Artillery shells struck a hospital in Sri Lanka's northern war zone, killing at least nine people and wounding another 20, the Red Cross said on Monday.
The Sri Lankan military denied it had shelled the hospital in a Tamil Tiger-held part of Mullaittivu district and blamed the rebels. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam made no comment, but a pro-rebel website accused the military of the firing.
"At least nine people were killed and at least 20 injured from the continued shelling," said Sarasi Wijerathne, a spokeswoman of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombo.
She said the ICRC had urged both sides to allow safe passage for scores of sick and wounded people trapped in the conflict zone.
Sri Lanka's army has surrounded the LTTE in a 300 sq km (115 sq mile) slice of jungle in the Indian Ocean island's northeast, aiming to end a war that began in 1983 and is one of Asia's longest-running conflicts.
The military, which has vowed to hunt down LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, said it had found a luxury house in the Vishvamadhu area which may have been used by the reclusive leader and his family.
Concern has grown for the safety of 250,000 people aid agencies say are trapped inside the battle zone, although the government describes those numbers as overblown.
On Monday, the government urged civilians to enter a "safety zone" it had demarcated.
"The government cannot be responsible for the safety and security of civilians still living among the LTTE terrorists," Lakshman Hulugalle, director general of the government's media center, said in a statement.
The military has said it would move in to free those trapped by the fighting after a government-declared, 48-hour truce lapsed. The military said 224 people had fled government controlled area on Sunday.
"We're shocked that the hospital was hit, and this for the second time in recent weeks," Paul Castella, head of the Colombo ICRC delegation, said in a statement.
A United Nations official said there would have been many casualties because the hospital was crowded when the shelling occurred.
"There were shells (striking) before midnight, It seems to have struck the paediatric ward (of Puthukkudiyiruppu hospital), We don't know how many killed or wounded but we know there were many casualties," U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss said.
The military says the Tigers are firing artillery from populated areas inside an army-declared no-fire zone with the hope of creating a crisis to build pressure for a truce.
The Tigers in turn accuse the military of firing into the no-fire zone. The military says it has a policy of zero civilian casualties. Continued...
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