More than 35,000 civilians poured out of the Tamil Tiger LTTE-held zone in northeast Sri Lanka Monday after government troops breached an embankment that opened a passage into LTTE territory.

The civilians, who had been held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a human shield for weeks, carried suitcases and belongings with them as they fled out of the LTTE zone.

A camera on a Sri Lankan military unmanned aerial vehicle captured the snaking line of civilians as they moved quickly over to the government lines. (Please click here to view the video)

Later Monday, another 1,000 civilians were rescued on the northern end of the slender no-fire zone at Plamattalan, South of Challai, according to the Defense Ministry. Aerial observations indicated nearly 3,000 civilians have been rushing towards the northern boundary of the no-fire-zone along the coastline. The ministry also reported that a large group of people attacked the LTTE cadres who attempted to stop them and crossed over to the army line amid LTTE small arms fire.

The sudden rush of civilians away from the LTTE forces seemed to undermine longstanding LTTE claims that civilians were remaining with the fighting force voluntarily.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa called the military’s efforts “The world’s largest hostage rescue mission,” and immediately ordered that all necessary food and medicine be dispatched to aid the newly displaced persons. President Rajapaksa viewed aerial footage of the escape at Sri Lankan Air Force headquarters.

President Rajapaksa also issued an ultimatum to the LTTE, giving it 24 hours to surrender and release the remaining civilians it still holds hostage. The government estimates that about 50,000 civilians remain trapped by the LTTE.

The escape began when Sri Lankan troops captured a 3-kilometer embankment once held by the LTTE on the western border of the government-declared “No-Fire“ zone. Videotape of the escape showed a long, snaking line of civilians moving rapidly away from the LTTE toward a breach in the embankment. In some instances, civilians were seen running and fording a waist-high lagoon.

The government said that all hostages held in the Ampalavanpokkanai and Valayanmadam areas were rescued.

Unfortunately, Monday’s mass escape was not without casualties. Fleeing civilians reported being shot at by the LTTE. Government troops reported that three LTTE suicide bombers ignited blasts among groups of fleeing civilians, killing dozens of them.

“The terrorists initially fired at the civilians on the causeway using heavy machine guns,” a defense source said. “When they stepped into the lagoon to avoid the LTTE machine gun fire, three LTTE cadres ran on to them and exploded themselves.”

The military reported that several thousand more civilians are awaiting rescue in the same area.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

20 April 2009

Home | Sri Lanka-US Relations | Trade | Investment | Travel | Consular | Press Releases |
Statements | Features | Reports & Publications | Archive | Contact I Ideas Line