January 29, 2009 (AFP) – The United Nations evacuated hundreds of severely wounded civilians from behind rebel lines in Sri Lanka Thursday as government troops fought to secure final victory over the Tamil Tigers.
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Human rights bodies have called for immediate steps by both the Colombo government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to save up to 250,000 civilians trapped in the combat zone in the northeast of the island.
“About 350 critically wounded civilians, including 50 children, crossed the front lines,” UN spokesman Gordon Weiss said, adding that the evacuations were the result of lengthy negotiations with the rebels.
“A quarter of a million people, perhaps as high as 300,000, are stuck in a pocket of land, a third the size of London,” he told UN radio.
“Our own staff witnessed the injury and deaths of dozens of people over the weekend at close quarters,” he added. “The three or four hospitals in the area are being overwhelmed by the numbers of wounded.
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The fighting is only intensifying.”
Weiss called on the warring sides “to exercise due restraint, so the civilians are not unnecessarily — if there is such a thing — unnecessarily killed or wounded.”
A convoy of ambulance