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Sri Lanka denies claims of heavy bombardment

SRI Lankan forces pounded rebel territory with a fierce artillery barrage yesterday, the day after the government pledged to stop using heavy weapons to prevent civilian casualties, a rebel-linked Website and a doctor in the region said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied the accusation, saying the Sri Lankan forces were using only small arms.

The bombardment by artillery, mortar shells and multi-barrel rocket launchers started late on Monday and lasted until yesterday morning, the TamilNet Website reported.

About a dozen shells hit a makeshift hospital inside rebel territory, killing five patients and sending many others fleeing for their lives, said a government physician working in the war zone. Other civilians in the area were also killed, he said.

"I saw four dead bodies on the side of the road outside the hospital and two bodies in a trench," the physician said.

The government has faced intense international pressure to accept a temporary truce to allow tens of thousands of trapped civilians to escape the fighting.

Instead, it said on Monday that it would stop using artillery attacks, air strikes and other heavy weapons in the offensive to ensure their safety.

The government, which accuses the Tamil Tigers of holding the civilians as human shields, said it would not agree to a truce because any letup in the battle would allow the rebels to regroup just as they stood on the verge of defeat.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner are due to arrive in Colombo today to mediate an end to the conflict.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was also to have made the trip, but he said yesterday that he had been denied entry by the government and no reason had been given.


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