Record numbers enter cleared areas

By Damith Wickramaratne

Over the past week at least 10,000 civilians who were trapped in the conflict zone in Mullaitivu have moved into Army-controlled areas, suggesting that the separatist Tamil Tigers are losing their grip on the civilian population, said military sources.

On Thursday alone, more than 8,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) crossed without incident into army-held terrain, even as the military engaged LTTE cadres in fierce close-quarter fighting in areas close to the “safe zone”, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

“The sudden mass exodus this week was triggered by the massacre of a family of five that had refused to allow one of the sons to be taken to the LTTE frontline. The so-called LTTE police shot dead all five members of the family and burnt the bodies.”

Since the beginning of the year more than 50,000 civilians have crossed into cleared areas, the military spokesman said.

In a related development, about 1,500 civilians were plucked from the seas by the Navy and taken to an IDP shelter at Point Pedro.

‘The IDPS, mostly women and children, were found floating helplessly in choppy waters when they were rescued by naval patrols,” Navy spokesperson, Commander Mahesh Karunaratne, said.

LTTE sells stolen food at record prices

Civilians trapped in LTTE-controlled areas live in nightmarish conditions in which they pay Rs. 150 for a loaf of bread and Rs. 20 for a single biscuit, while being compelled to cook their meals in seawater because of a shortage of salt.

This was the harsh reality described to the Army by internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have recently escaped the conflict zone.

According to reports reaching Colombo, coconuts are in zero supply in the conflict zone because people are afraid to climb coconut trees for fear of being mistaken for LTTE snipers by Army sharpshooters.

The military quoted IDPs as saying the LTTE takes control of food shipments sent by the UN and the government and then sells the food items at exorbitant prices. The IDPs said present food stocks were dwindling fast.

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