Sri Lankan forces battled Tamil Tiger insurgents from three sides pushing deeper into rebel-held territory amid a report that navy gunboats heavily shelled an area packed with civilians. With concerns growing for the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone, a new round of international officials came to Colombo to meet with the government. Another 200,000 civilians who already fled the fighting have overwhelmed displacement camps in the north.
The military said it captured an earthen fortification from the rebels in heavy fighting Sunday along the borders of the 2.8-mile-long coastal strip remaining under rebel control. Troops pushed further forward. Troops are moving slowly into the area from the west, the north and the south.The government has vowed to crush the rebel group and end the country's quarter-century civil war. Out of deference for the civilians in the war zone, the government promised last week to cease using artillery, mortar fire and airstrikes.
However, health officials in the region have reported continued shelling, including an attack on a makeshift hospital that killed 64 patients and bystanders Saturday.The hospital was nearly hit again Sunday night, when shells landed around 300 feet. Navy gunboats also fired scores of shells along the coast Monday morning as desperately hungry families crowded the shore to buy fish from returning fishermen.
There were no accurate counts of the dead and wounded because the hospital's registrar was wounded herself in the attack on the hospital. The military has repeatedly denied shelling the area, saying troops are using only small arms in the battle.Many in the area are struggling for food, and several elderly people are dying everyday from starvation.