Tamils in northern Sri Lankan seeking haven in rebel-held areas

Army operations in northern Sri Lanka have terrified hundreds of ethnic Tamils who have fled government-controlled areas to seek haven in territory controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels, the guerrillas said Tuesday. There has been a spike in the Sri Lankan army's cordon-and-search operations in northern Jaffna Peninsula since the troops started coming under increased hit-and-run attacks and bombings, blamed on the rebels, since early last month.

The violence has killed 59 soldiers since Dec. 4 and has raised fears that the Sri Lanka's 2002 cease-fire will collapse and that the country will sink back into civil war.

The Tigers said on their Web site Tuesday that that ethnic Tamils in Jaffna were "petrified by the excesses of the Sri Lankan military activities" and that hundreds of such families have fled to rebel-held areas.

"We are scared even to see the military," the rebel Web site said quoting a Tamil mother as saying. The rebels did not identify the alleged victims by their names. The Sri Lankan military denied rebel allegations of heavy-handed tactics.

An officer at the Media Unit of the Defense Ministry said troops follow proper guidelines during search and cordon operations. The officer cannot be named under military's regulations. According to the rebels, troops often cover their faces with black clothes before conducting search operations, adding that university students were also among those who have fled Jaffna.

There was no independent confirmation of the report, but it came as President Mahinda Rajapakse met with ambassadors of Norway, Japan, Britain and the European Union, key backers of Sri Lanka's peace process, and briefed them on a weekend attack that killed 13 sailors and which the government said had "all the hallmarks" of a Tamil Tiger attack, reports the AP. I.L.

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