B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan Defence Ministry said on Sunday that 685 civilians managed to escape from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Karaiyanmullivaikkal, as fighting raged between the Army and the Tigers in the new safety zone (NSZ) under the latter’s occupation. Another fifteen civilians reached the troops in Mullaithivu north.

“Four of these civilians had suffered serious gun shot injuries in terrorist gun fire...” the Defence Ministry said in a statement. “They were rushed to Anuradhapura hospital for further treatment.”

Asked about the accounts provided by the government health officials on the deaths inside the NSZ, a senior official reminded reporters of the circular issued by the Health Ministry urging the media not to given credence to the versions of its officials stranded in the Tiger-occupied zone. “We have no reason to doubt the integrity of the doctors. But the reality is that these officials, like the rest of the civilians, are being held hostage by the LTTE and have no option but to take orders from the Tigers.”

The military said that infantrymen of Air Mobile Brigade under the command of 53 Division further advanced into the NSZ in the early hours of Sunday and captured LTTE strong positions in Karaiynamullivaikkal.

It said there was intense fighting as the Tiger cadres put up stiff resistance. However, troops of 6 Gajaba Regiment (6 GR), 5 Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment (5 VIR), 1 Sri Lanka Light Infantry (1 SLLI) and 17 Gemunu Watch (17 GW) were able to breach the enemy defence line inflicting heavy damage to the enemy.

The Ministry said that LTTE had laid land mines in the area to obstruct the advance of the security forces. It said that troops of the 58 Division also continued their march to rescue the civilians held hostage by the LTTE.

In a report on the situation inside the NSZ, the pro-LTTE TamilNet said, “rescue workers within the Mullaithivu Safety Zone have counted more than 1200 bodies after the large scale slaughter Saturday night and Sunday morning by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) with the use of cluster ammunition, multi-barrel rocket launchers and cannons.”

The military denied the charge as cheap propaganda. It was an attempt to invite international intervention to rescue senior Tiger leaders, including its chief Velupillai Prabakaran, from certain defeat as the fall of the rest of the area under the occupation of LTTE was imminent, it said.