Civilians are dying by the hundreds and possibly thousands in the northeast of Sri Lanka. As government troops converge on the remaining forces of the rebel LTTE (Tamil Tigers) in a tiny strip of coastal land, tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped in the crossfire -- getting killed and maimed in large numbers both by indiscriminate army shelling and by the rebels preventing them from fleeing, with equally lethal force.
Many thousands have managed to escape the free-fire zone in recent days, all with horrific tales to tell of those they left behind. Just how many civilians remain in the killing zone is not entirely clear. The government is saying that as many as 170,000 are now in government territory, with more than 100,000 people fleeing the zone since Monday.
Last month, however, they were claiming there were only 38,000 remaining to be liberated from LTTE control. Their current figure of 15,000 to 20,000 remaining with the LTTE should therefore be treated with great caution.
LTTE figures are also unreliable. The Red Cross says there could be 50,000 still trapped, and the UN publicly estimates 60,000. Sources on the ground put the figure significantly higher.