NEW DELHI, Feb. 18 (UPI) -- India is calling on rebels in Sri Lanka to allow thousands of civilians to escape an outbreak of fighting with government troops.
The Indian government estimates as many as 70,000 people in northern Sri Lanka are in harm's way as the government and the Tamil Tigers slug it out for control of the region.
AExternal Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told parliament Wednesday fighters from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were in some instances using civilians as human shields and firing on refugees trying to flee the fighting, CNN reported.
The separatist Tigers have been fighting the Sri Lankan government since 1983 and have been cornered in a shrinking area of the Vanni region of the island.
"As the conflict enters what may be the final phase of military operations, the LTTE would best serve the interest of the Tamils by immediately releasing all civilians and laying down arms," Mukherjee said.