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Sri Lanka Launches Fresh Offensive Against LTTE

Sri Lankan Army launched fresh offensive against the LTTE to "liberate" people from the areas still held by the rebels in the northern region after a 48-hour deadline set by the Government ended raising concerns over the fate of tens of thousands of hapless civilians caught in the crossfire.

In fresh attacks against the beleaguered Tamil Tigers, troops captured two "Black Tiger" camps in Visuamadu area in Mullaitivu district and killed 12 LTTE cadres.

The troops also recovered a large cache of weapons, including mortar launchers, rifles, rocket propelled grenades, light machine guns, grenades, mines, bombs and detonators from the two camps used by "Black Tigers", suicide wing of LTTE.

The Media Center for National Security said a gathering point of LTTE located northwards of Mullaitivu lagoon was pounded by Air Force fighter jets this evening.

"The air stike was launched to support the Army troops of the 59 division in combat. Air force sources confirm that the air strike hit the targets accurately," the MCNS said.

The fresh offensive came hours after the LTTE failed to honour a 48-hour deadline set by President Mahinda Rajapakse to the rebels to surrender and allow free movement of civilians trapped in conflict areas.

"The Government would continue to adhere to the zero civilian casualty policy while enagaing on its all out effort to eradicate the terrorists (LTTE)," the Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website.

Meanwhile, international aid agencies and UNICEF expressed concern over the safety of more than 250,000 civilians caught in the crossfire between the Army and the LTTE.

  UNICEF said an increasing number of children, some just months-old, had been injured in the fighting in Sri Lanka in the past 10 days.

 "We have clear evidence that children are being caught in the crossfire, and that children are being injured and killed," UNICEF's South Asia director Daniel Toole said.

 "Children are bearing the brunt of the conflict which is not theirs. We are gravely concerned for the tens of thousands of children who are trapped in a fast shrinking area of intense conflict," he said in a statement, adding that the best way for them is to move to safe areas.

 Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse entered into a diplomatic tiff with envoys, foreign media and aid agencies warning that they would be "chased away" from the island if they attempt to side with the LTTE.

 "They will be chased away (if they try) to give a second wind to the LTTE terrorists at a time the security forces, at heavy cost, are dealing them the final death blow," Rajapakse, brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, said.

 His remarks came as the aid agencies and western media accused the Government of not doing enough to rescue civilians trapped in the fighting between the Army and LTTE.

 In one of the camp captured, troops found a bungalow complete with roads and nine A5 weapons to fire "gas" were recovered.

 "Two storeys built underground consisting of three rooms were found with equipped with beds, refrigerators, modern bathrooms, toilets, noiseless electric generator, accessories and cupboard," the MCNS said.

 However, the pro-LTTE website Tamilnet.Com reported that the Tamil Tigers' lauched a pre-emptive strike on Sri Lankan Army offensive units that were prepared for an "all out assault" on Puthukkudyiruppu. The Army suffered heavy casualties, it said.

  Aid agencies say that more than 250,000 hapless civilians are trapped in the war between the Sri Lankan Army and LTTE, but the government contradicts the figure and says there are only around 1.2 lakh people in the conflict zones.

 The Government accuses the LTTE of holding people as "human shields", but the rebels say they are not holding any one forcibly.

 Meanwhile, the MCNS said a naval patrol craft rescued 43 Tamil civilians who were fleeing from the clutches of LTTE last night.

 However, TamilNet.Com reported that only 26 civilians crossed through Oamanthai into Sri Lankan Government-controlled areas in the last 48 hours.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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