Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels have claimed that over 1,000 civilians had been killed and 2,300 injured since government troops raided their last sliver of territory.
The military insists that it has rescued 52,000 civilians since Monday when it used explosives to breach a barrier built by the rebels to protect their last redoubt, a six-square-mile patch of lagoons, coconut groves and beachfront.
It is not possible to obtain independent accounts of the situation because Colombo bars journalists from entering the war zone.
But the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has been operating hospitals in the region, described the situation in the war zone on Tuesday as “nothing short of catastrophic.”
ICRC director of operations in Sri Lanka Pierre Krahenbuhl said: “What we are seeing is intense fighting in a very small area overcrowded with civilians who have fled there,” adding that the group is “particularly concerned” about the use of artillery and its impact on civilians.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) alleged in an emailed statement that 1,000 civilians had been killed since Monday and 2,300 injured.
It said that a “bloodbath” now prevailed in the war zone and called on the United Nations and the world community to act to rescue tens of thousands of trapped civilians.
But the army denied the claim and accused the LTTE of targeting civilians leaving the conflict zone in a desperate attempt to use them as human shields against advancing government troops.
The UN children’s fund warned on Tuesday of dreadful consequences for youngsters.
With tens of thousands of children still caught in the crossfire, UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe said: “It is a catastrophic situation for children. We believe that the worst is yet to come.”
Ms Crowe called on Colombo and the LTTE to immediately halt hostilities.
“The LTTE needs to make sure that the civilians are allowed to leave the area freely and government forces need to exercise maximum restraint, particularly against innocent civilians and children,” she said.
The UN has repeatedly called for a negotiated truce to allow civilians to leave the dwindling, rebel-held enclave.
But the government insists that it will not back down now that it appears to be on the verge of crushing the rebels and putting an end to the quarter-century-long conflict.
At the same time, LTTE peace secretariat chief Seevaratnam Puleedevan is adamant that the Tigers will never surrender.
“LTTE will never surrender and we will fight and we have the confidence that we will win, with the help of the Tamil people,” Mr Puleedevan declared.