Sri Lanka arrests Tigers escaping with fleeing civilians

Dec 21, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lankan troops have arrested 15 Tamil Tiger rebels who pretended to be civilians fleeing the embattled eastern region ahead of a major military offensive, officials said Thursday. The men were detained while the security forces screened some 22,000 civilians who fled the Vakarai area in the eastern district of Batticaloa where there had been artillery duels between troops and Tigers, the military said.

“We have arrested at least 15 Tiger cadres who were mingling with the refugees,” a military official said. “There could be another 10,000 to 15,000 civilians in Vakarai who want to get out.”

Heavy monsoon rains were preventing more people from quitting the area ahead of possible fresh fighting in the area, a military official here said.

Sri Lanka’s army chief Sarath Fonseka last week declared that troops will flush out members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from the eastern province.

Military officials in the province said any action could begin with an onslaught against Tigers in Vakarai.

The United Nations and international truce monitors have voiced grave concern for the civilians caught in the crossfire between troops and the rebels at Vakarai