Troops capture more LTTE-held areas, UN official reaches Colombo (Lead)

Colombo, April 26 (Inditop) Troops Sunday captured more LTTE-held areas as a senior UN official arrived in Sri Lanka to assess the needs of tens of thousands of civilians who fled the rebel-held areas and those who are still trapped in the war-zone in the island’s north.

The defence ministry said that soldiers of 58 Division have captured Valayarmadam, a coastal village in the Tamil Tigers-held no-fire-zone in the north-eastern Mullaitivu district, further squeezing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) into a small coastal land strip.

“Troops declared the area fully secured this morning (Sunday). So far, soldiers have been able to rescue over 500 hostages,” it said.

Valayarmadam is just six km short of Vellamullivaikkal, the last remaining LTTE hideout where thousands of civilians still remained trapped.

Nearly 110,000 people have fled the war-zone and come to the government-controlled areas since last Monday, taking the total number of Internally Displaced People (IDP) to over 180,000.

Amid mounting international appeal for the safety of thousands of civilians affected by fighting, the UN Humanitarian Affairs chief John Holmes arrived here late Saturday aiming “to see at first hand the situation of civilians affected by fighting in the island’s north”.

During his two-day stay in Colombo, Holmes is expected “to visit camps for the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled the fighting and to raise continuing high levels of concern about those still trapped”, the UN said.

“The top priority remains the preservation of the lives of the tens of thousands of civilians still trapped inside the combat zone,” said Holmes.

“But I also want to see the people in the camps, to visit UN staff being held there, and to review how the sudden outflow of so many people from the combat zone is being managed,” Holmes said before leaving for Colombo.

Although the government officials say that they were coping with the situation in providing the basic facilities to the IDPs, the UN said that the sudden outflow of such a large mass of people “threatens to overwhelm existing systems”.

The LTTE has been fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the north and eastern parts of the country for the past quarter century.