Sri Lankan troops rescue 5,000 civilians from rebel area

Colombo, April 20 (Inditop) Troops stormed a coastal village in north-eastern Sri Lanka Monday and rescued about 5,000 civilians who had been prevented by Tamil rebels from going to military-controlled areas, military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

He said troops broke through an earthen barrier in Puthumathalan village, 390 km north-east of the capital, in the early hours of Monday and rescued the civilians, including a large number of women and children.

The civilians have been trapped in a 12-km stretch along the coastal area for the past three months, though some of the villagers have been able to escape against the wishes of the rebels, military officials said.

According to army estimates, some 70,000 civilians remain in the coastal areas where drinking water is scarce. The government has been sending shipments of food by sea into the area.

An estimated 68,000 civilians have left the rebel-held areas and are currently in camps controlled by the government.

The military says it is in the last phase of a military drive to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).