SRI LANKA
Priyankara Jayasinghe  /  AP
Sri Lankan Army soldiers arrive at Wilpattu National Park, about 110 miles north of Colombo, after a search operation aimed at finding the killers of eight people, including soldiers and wildlife officials.
updated 3/12/2007 12:06:10 PM ET 2007-03-12T16:06:10

The number of refugees in eastern Sri Lanka climbed past 100,000 after heavy fighting in rebel-held parts of the island forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes in recent days, according to the Red Cross.

Battles between government troops and separatist Tamil Tiger rebels have escalated in parts of the country’s rebel strongholds after a few weeks’ lull.

International Committee of the Red Cross official Davide Vignati said Saturday that, since November, some 105,000 displaced people have fled to government-controlled refugee camps in the eastern district of Batticaloa.

On Sunday, a Tamil lawmaker appealed for international intervention in the conflict.

“The artillery shells fired by the military are falling inside civilian settlements and this is forcing the people to flee,” said Senadhiraja Jeyanandamoorthy, a member of Parliament from Batticaloa district representing the Tamil National Alliance, widely seen as a rebel proxy party.

“The government is not providing them with facilities, therefore, the international community should come forward to stop this,” he said.

Military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe denied that civilian areas were being targeted. “The Tigers use the civilians as human shields,” he said. “They (refugees) want to get out of there and come to safer places.”

The Defense Ministry said Sunday that government troops had fought rebels in Batticaloa in a clash that left five soldiers wounded. The government said troops had repulsed a rebel attack.

The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 to create a separate state in the north and east for the country’s ethnic Tamil minority, following decades of discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. The conflict left about 65,000 people dead before the government and rebels signed a Norway-brokered cease-fire in 2002.

However, renewed fighting has killed about 4,000 more people and displaced at least 200,000 since late 2005, when the cease-fire faltered, European truce monitors say.

Meanwhile, a Tamil Tiger spokesman said the rebels had repulsed government commandos’ recent assault on a rebel base in eastern Sri Lanka. He denied military claims that the rebel camp had been overrun and 20 guerrillas killed.

A military spokesman had said earlier that special task force troops stormed the base in Ampara district, 130 miles east of the capital, Colombo, on Friday.

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