35,000 civilians flee Sri Lanka rebel zone

April 20, 2009 at 12:50 PM
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, April 20 (UPI) -- More than 35,000 civilians fled from a no-fire zone in northern Sri Lanka where cornered Tamil Tiger rebels were given 24 hours to surrender, officials said.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa gave Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader Veluppillai Prabhakaran and his top commanders 24 hours to surrender before making an "all out" bid to seize an 8-square-mile civilian no-fire zone where the remnants of the LTTE forces were gathered, the Press Trust of India reported.

The mass exodus showed that civilians in the no-fire zone were being held by the LTTE against their will as human shields, Rajapaksa said, asserting their departure indicated a "complete defeat" of Tigers was imminent.

"The video footage clearly shows that the people are defying the rebels and are escaping. They are running for safety," PTI quoted Rajapaksa as saying.

Sri Lankan officials said it had received reports of two suicide bomb attacks in the no-fire zone. They said they suspected LTTE rebels were responsible for the bombings, in which 17 people were believed killed, PTI reported.

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