Sat, Aug 05, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Thousands escape battle zone in eastern Sri Lanka

MORE FIGHTING Civil war appears to have resumed in all but name as Tamil rebels launched a number of attacks, the largest of which was on the town of Mutur

AGENCIES , TRINCOMALEE AND COLOMBO, SRI LANKA

Sri Lankan police officers inspect the site of a claymore explosion in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, yesterday. The roadside bomb planted by suspected rebels wounded three government police officers.

PHOTO: AP

Thousands of civilians fled Sri Lanka's eastern battle zone yesterday as shells fell nearby during an artillery battle between Tamil Tiger rebels and the army, survivors said.

Small pockets of rebels continued firefights with troops in the eastern Muslim town of Mutur, where aid workers say between 20,000-30,000 people were trapped by the fighting.

Tamil Tigers also attacked army camps and Norway's peace envoy flew in to discuss the future of Nordic truce monitors as the island slides back to civil war.

A dozen aid trucks organized by local Muslim groups drove towards Mutur carrying food and water, white flags flying from their windows.

At least 20 civilians, 12 Tigers and one soldier were killed on Thursday. The military says it has killed more than 70 rebels in the past week and the Tigers say they have the bodies of 40 troops ready to hand over. But each side dismisses the other's claims.

There were other isolated attacks in the north-central district of Vavuniya and in the eastern district of Batticaloa, where a breakaway rebel faction said they attacked a camp of the mainstream Tigers, killing five fighters.

Amid fears the fighting could spread to the Sinhalese-majority south, police arrested two suspected rebel fighters in a lorry carrying claymore mines and hand grenades in the port town of Galle 100km south of Colombo.

The fighting is the most intense and prolonged since a 2002 truce and diplomats and some military personnel say the civil war that began in 1983 appears to have resumed in all but name.

Dozens of badly wounded people, including several children, were ferried across Trincomalee harbor in gunboats to the town of the same name on Thursday, where the hospital is overflowing with casualties.

Norwegian special peace envoy Jon Hanssen-Bauer flew to the island yesterday to discuss how to preserve a Nordic truce monitoring mission after Denmark, Finland and Sweden pulled their staff out in the face of a rebel ultimatum.

The Tigers gave monitors from EU nations a Sept. 1 deadline to quit the island after the bloc listed them as a terrorist organization reducing the 54-member mission to just 20 people.

Also yesterday, a Tamil playwright who wrote and directed dramas that extolled Tamil history and culture was fatally shot in northern Jaffna, area police said.

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