Sri Lanka civilians flee as fighting escalates: army

January 17, 2009 (AFP) – Some 170 people have fled rebel-controlled areas in northern Sri Lanka as fresh fighting erupted across several fronts, the military said Saturday.

A massive assault by Sri Lankan troops has left the Tigers cornered in their military stronghold in the northeastern coastal district of Mullaittivu.

Sri Lanka has poured a record 1.7 billion dollars into this year’s war effort as troops push to eject the Tigers from their last stronghold in the jungle and lagoon district around Mullaittivu.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the Tamils launched their struggle for a separate homeland in 1972 in the Sinhalese-majority island. It said the 170 men, women and children had sought shelter in government-controlled areas in the north on Friday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday warned of a “massive displacement” of civilians, many of whom had already been forced to move numerous times.

“Tens of thousands of displaced civilians are concentrated in an area so small that there are serious concerns for their physical safety and living conditions, in particular in terms of hygiene,” ICRC said.