04/10/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA

Army says civilians rebelling against Tamil Tigers in security zone

Melani Manel Perera
The army of Colombo says there have been "serious disturbances . . . with loud explosions and machine gun fire" in the area of Ampalawanpokkanai.The population is believed to have risen up against the rebels after the latest appeal from the army, which asked the LTTE to allow the civilians to leave the no-fire zone. According to the Defense Ministry, the leaders of the Tigers have also taken shelter in the area.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Civilian revolt in the security zone. The Defense Ministry of Colombo says that on Wednesday afternoon, there was fighting between the population taking refuge in the so-called "no fire zone" (NFZ) and the Tamil rebels present in the area.

The army of Colombo says there have been "serious disturbances" with "loud explosions and machine gun fire" from the area of Ampalawanpokkanai. The revolt is been believed to have erupted after the military, through loudspeakers on the border of the NFZ, told the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to release the civilians they were keeping hostage, and put down their weapons.

According to the Defense Ministry, the heads of the LTTE, and even their leader, Velupillai Prabakaran, have taken shelter in the security zone. In confirmation of this hypothesis, the army reports the statement by a group of 118 civilians, made up of 51 children, 36 women, and 31 men, who were brought to safety on April 8. They say that the Tamil rebels have built bunkers inside the NFZ to house the commanders of the LTTE, and barriers to keep the civilians from leaving the area.

The population trapped in the conflict zone and in the NFZ is the object of constant violence, and at the center of ongoing controversy. The regular forces of Colombo accuse the Tamil Tigers of using civilians as human shields, and of keeping them hostage in order to obstruct the army's advance; the rebels respond by accusing the military of bombing the area without making any distinction between civilians and guerrillas.

The international community has repeatedly appealed to the two forces in conflict to spare the civilian population and permit the refugees to leave the war zone. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has repeated these requests to the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa, during a telephone conversation yesterday. The United Nations says that there is a serious humanitarian crisis afflicting the populations in the northern part of the island, confirming the alarm raised some time ago by the Churches and civil society in the country.

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