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Page last updated at 07:57 GMT, Thursday, 9 April 2009 08:57 UK

'Civilians die' in Sri Lanka zone

By Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News, Colombo

A Sri Lankan soldier during the recent fighting in Mullaitivu.
The military has hemmed the rebels into a small area of land

At least 60 civilians have been killed by shells fired in a no-fire zone in Sri Lanka in the past 24 hours, a senior health official there says.

Two health facility compounds in the north-east region were also hit, Dr T Varatharaja told the BBC.

Tens of thousands of civilians are trapped by the fighting between the Sri Lanka military and Tamil Tigers rebels.

The military has denied responsibility for the casualties, and the rebels have not responded.

More than 300 people were injured in the shelling in a small stretch of coastal area in Mullaitivu district.

The military says it has captured all rebel-held territory in the north-east after days of intense fighting, and has now pushed the rebels into a government-designated "safe zone" set up to protect civilians.

Health facility hit

The zone is estimated to be about 20 sq km (8 sq miles) of the coastal area.

"Some shells landed inside a smaller health facility in the Ambalavanpokkanai area when people were waiting to collect milk powder for children.


We have not fired any shells towards the safe zone
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara
Sri Lankan military spokesman

"Ten people were killed in the incident," Dr Varatharaja told the BBC by phone from a make-shift health facility inside the "safe zone".

He said the intensity of shell fire had increased in the last 24 hours and another health facility had also come under attack in the same area in which one health worker was killed.

The official said the shells came from an area dominated by the security forces.

There is no confirmation of the official's version of events, because independent journalists are banned by the government from travelling to the war-affected area.

However, the military has denied responsibility for civilian deaths.

"We have not fired any shells towards the safe zone," Sri Lankan military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

"The doctor may be under pressure from the rebels to talk about civilian casualties."

There has been no reaction from Tamil Tiger rebels.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said one of its aid workers was killed in shelling in the region on Wednesday.

It also evacuated more than 500 sick and war-injured people from the war zone the same day.

The United Nations says that more than 2,800 civilians may have been killed and 7,000 injured in fighting in the last two months.

The government disputes these figures.

The UN has also accused the rebels of preventing the civilians from leaving the war zone, saying there were credible reports that Tamil Tigers were shooting at those attempting to flee.

The rebels deny the accusations.

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