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Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

S Lanka hospital 'attacked again'

Sri Lankan soldiers. File pic
About 50,000 troops are involved in the operation in the north-east

The Red Cross in Sri Lanka says three more civilians have been killed in artillery attacks on a hospital in Tamil Tiger-held territory.

It said another 10 people were injured when shells hit a ward on Monday in the hospital in Puthukkudiyiruppu town in Mullaitivu district.

Aid workers say nine died in three strikes on the hospital at the weekend.

The government says it is not responsible for the attacks and has told civilians to leave the war zone.

'Decisive stage'

Puthukkudiyiruppu is situated in an enclave held by the rebels and is home to tens of thousands of civilians.

The hospital is one of the last functioning health facilities in the area.

A Red Cross spokeswoman told the BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan in Colombo that people had started to leave the hospital in search of safer places.

The spokeswoman, Sarasi Wijeratne, said the organisation was "negotiating for safe passage with both sides to bring the sick and wounded to government-controlled territory for treatment".

In an earlier attack, the UN said, the shells hit a crowded paediatric unit. At least nine people were killed in the firing, the Red Cross said.

It is not clear who fired them, with pro-rebel websites blaming the army for the attacks, and the military denying any role.

In a statement, the government said fighting in the north-east was at a "decisive stage" and that it could not guarantee civilians' safety in the area.

Separately, the army said it had found an underground bunker complex it believed was one of the hideouts of the top leader of the Tamil Tigers.

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Tour of the underground bunker (Sri Lanka military pictures)

The two-storey-deep bunker was found hidden in a coconut plantation in Mullaitivu district during fighting on Monday, the army said.

The ministry said the bunker had electricity generators, air conditioning and medical supplies.

There was no sign of the rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The army also said it had captured another rebel air strip. The 2km strip near Piramanthalkulam is the seventh reported captured by the military.

INSURGENCY TIMELINE
1976: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam form in the north-east
1987: India deploys peace-keepers to Tamil areas but they leave in 1990
1993: President Premadasa killed by Tiger bomb
2001: Attack on airport destroys half Sri Lankan Airlines fleet
2002: Government and rebels agree ceasefire
2005: Mahinda Rajapaksa becomes president
2006: Heavy fighting resumes
2009: Army takes main rebel bases of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu

There is no independent confirmation of any of the army's claims - journalists are not able to reach the front lines.

The Sri Lankan government has told civilians to leave the area of fighting in the north-east but it is unclear how those trapped can escape.

Sri Lanka's military says it has designated a safe zone for civilians in a 32 sq km buffer zone on the A-35 main road which links Paranthan and Mullaitivu.

The zone is inside a gradually shrinking rebel enclave north of Mullaitivu.

Aid workers say that, in recent days, shells have fallen into the zone and people have been killed there. Both sides deny being responsible for firing into the area.

The army offensive has pushed the rebels into a 300 sq km (110 sq mile) corner of jungle.

Aid agencies say up to 250,000 civilians are in the area.

The government says the number is closer to 120,000. It accuses the Tamil Tigers of not allowing civilians to leave, saying they are being used as human shields.

The rebels say the civilians prefer to stay where they are under rebel "protection".

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
New York Times At Least 700 Civilians Cross to Safety in Sri Lanka - 2 hrs ago
Boston Globe Sri Lankan leader signals possible defeat of rebels - 2 hrs ago
Al Jazeera Medics flee Sri Lanka fighting - 2 hrs ago
Taipei Times Online Victory over Tigers in days: Colombo - 4 hrs ago
Telegraph Sri Lanka president claims victory - 5 hrs ago



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