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Sri Lanka truce over, doors open to final fight
Wed Apr 15, 2009 3:46pm EDT
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By C. Bryson Hull
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's two-day humanitarian truce ended on Wednesday as the military announced it was now free to begin a final assault to end the 25-year war against the rebel Tamil Tigers.
The Sri Lankan military says only 1,000 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels remain, and accuse the fighters of holding around 100,000 civilians as human shields.
In less than three years, the military has retaken 15,000 square km (5,790 sq mile) from the separatists and pushed them into 17 square km (6.6 sq mile) of coastal coconut groves, where commanders expect to end a war that began in 1983.
The pro-rebel website TamilNet.com on Wednesday said the military had unleashed an assault with rockets, artillery and gunfire in the morning hours.
"It is impossible to assess casualty details, but at least 180 civilians are feared killed within three hours," TamilNet said, quoting its own correspondent.
Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said troops were back on active duty but had not started firing.
"We are observing the activities there. We have not commenced any offensive as yet, but the restricted period is over," he said.
U.N. humanitarian affairs chief John Holmes told reporters in New York on Wednesday that a two-day humanitarian pause was over and fighting had resumed, including in a no-fire zone.
Contrary to his original hopes, Holmes said, the pause did not enable significant amounts of aid to get into the no-fire zone or more civilians to escape from the area, which he said the government continued to shell. This was because the LTTE was not allowing people to leave, he said.
"Not only did this (pause) not allow more civilians to get out, there seemed to be less civilians getting out during the pause than before," Holmes said. "It's clear that the LTTE did not allow those who wished to leave ... to do so."
"Civilians should not be used as pawns or human shields in this way," he said.
DENIALS FROM BOTH SIDES
Holmes also urged the government to stop shelling the no-fire zone, which he said was a densely populated area roughly twice the size of New York's Central Park.
"I call on the government once again to live up to the promises they've made on repeated occasions not to use heavy weapons in this area," he said. "I'm afraid they have been doing that."
The Tigers have repeatedly accused the government of shelling civilian areas, which the military denies. Continued...
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