Civilians flee war zone despite suicide strike: govt
Thousands of Tamil civilians streamed out of Sri Lanka's war zone on Tuesday despite a suicide bombing that killed 30 people at a centre for those escaping the fighting, a military official said.
More than 6,500 Tamils crossed the frontlines in the northern Mullaittivu region on Monday, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said, as the military pushed on with its offensive to end the Tamil Tigers' separatist campaign.
The government accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) -- as they are formally known -- of carrying out the suicide attack to halt the flow of civilians out of the jungle territory that the rebels still control.
Monday's bombing was condemned by the United Nations and the United States, which backed Colombo's stance, saying that it was an "apparent effort by the LTTE to discourage Tamils from leaving the conflict area."
International governments and the Sri Lankan authorities have accused the Tigers of holding the civilians as "human shields."
"What we are seeing is that more people are coming over to our side," Nanayakkara said. "The Tigers have also been firing mortars at the routes taken by the civilians, but still they want to escape from the fighting."
Nanayakkara said 10 civilians were among the 30 people killed in Monday's attack when a female suicide bomber attacked a makeshift shelter where security forces receive internally displaced people.
The Tamil Tigers issued no response, and no independent verification from the conflict zone was available as journalists, aid groups and international observers are banned from reporting from the area.
Colombo says the number of civilians trapped by the conflict is now less than 100,000, though UN agencies recently placed it as high as 250,000.
"Up to this morning we have 28,250 people registering with us from the start of this year," Nanayakkara said, adding that the volume of fleeing civilians had picked up sharply in the past week.
The defence ministry said government forces on Tuesday kept up attacks against the remaining Tiger rebels, who suffered "heavy damages" and lost 17 fighters.
Amnesty International condemned the suicide bombing and said it should not lead to government retaliation.
"The use of such attacks by one party to an armed conflict does not excuse unlawful attacks in response," Amnesty's Sri Lanka specialist Yolanda Foster said in a statement.
Amnesty said the government's restrictions made it impossible to know what was happening on the ground.
"In a war with no witnesses, it is the civilians who pay the price for both parties' disregard for international humanitarian law," it said.
In a dispute over censorship, the BBC announced on Monday that it was suspending its FM programming to Sri Lanka's national broadcaster.
The BBC said there had been "deliberate interference" with their programmes.
The government has accused individuals from international aid agencies, diplomats and news organisations of being supportive of the Tamil Tigers, whose territory has shrunk to less than 100 square kilometres (38 square miles).