Tens of thousands of civilians trapped in Sri Lanka's northern war zone face a "catastrophic" situation, the Red Cross said, amid fears a final assault against the Tamil Tiger rebels would lead to a dramatic rise in casualties.
The United Nations and others have called for a negotiated truce to allow civilians to leave the rebel-held coastal strip â and the government says more than 52,000 had escaped since Monday. But it has refused to heed the international pleas to halt the fighting, saying Tuesday that it is on the verge of crushing the separatists and putting an end to the 25-year-old war.
The UN estimated more than 4,500 civilians have been killed in the past three months. The rebels said more than 1,000 civilians died Monday in a government raid, while the government said it rescued thousands after they broke through a barrier built by the insurgents that protects their last stronghold.
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Image: Sri Lankan Tamil civilians evacuated from the war zone wait at a transit camp for registration in Omantai, about 230 kilometers north of Colombo, on Tuesday, April 21, 2009.