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15,000 escape Tamil's territory

MORE than 15,000 civilians have fled Sri Lanka's northern war zone over the last three days, an official said yesterday as government forces appeared poised to crush the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Meanwhile, army troops foiled a rebel attempt to break through the front line of government forces in the north,killing at least 21 insurgents, themilitary said. The military's relentless offensive in recent months has almost routed the rebels, virtually ending their 25-year war for a separate Tamil nation in the Sinhalese-majority country.

The United Nations and aid agencies have expressed concern for the estimated 250,000 civilians trapped in the shrinking sliver of land still controlled by the Tigers.

"So far on Sunday, 4,600 civilians have come to the government areas," military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said. He said 5,600 fled the war zone on Saturday while another 5,000 crossed over Friday, bringing the total for the three days to 15,200.

The government accuses the rebels of holding civilians as human shields, a charge the rebels deny.


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