Civilians in northeast Sri Lanka flee as death toll climb

COLOMBO, Dec 10, 2006 (AFP) – Some 3,000 civilians on Sunday were fleeing as heavy artillery duels in Sri Lanka’s restive northeast killed more than 110 people, including 41 civilians, according to rebels and security forces. More than 3,500 people have been killed in Sri Lanka in the past year. The bitter ethnic conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972. The two sides said sporadic mortar bomb attacks and artillery fire continued throughout Sunday along the Trincomalee and Batticaloa district borders.

The International Red Cross said more than 3,300 people were displaced.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in a statement asked both the military and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to comply with international humanitarian law.

The ICRC appeal came as the LTTE said 41 civilians in areas held by them had been killed in two days of shelling by troops.

The military denies attacking civilians and in turn accuses the rebels of using human shields.

“The ICRC urges the parties to respect the freedom of movement of internally displaced people,” the Geneva-based organisation said amid fears that civilians were trapped by heavy fighting.

The LTTE said t