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Hundreds flee Sri Lanka war zone

Source ITN

Updated on 18 March 2009

Sri Lanka's navy has rescued 643 people who were fleeing fighting between Tamil Tiger rebels and government troops.

Rebels had been firing on the civilians, who were escaping in 35 small boats. The navy managed to chase the rebels away, spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The military has the Tamil Tigers cornered in 11 square miles of the Indian Ocean island's northeast, and is battling to deal a final blow to their 25-year separatist rebellion.

At least 18 more rebels were killed in the latest clashes in the shrinking war zone, a military official said.

The United Nations children's agency Unicef said in a statement that hundreds of children were among the 2,800 civilians who have been killed in fighting already, and warned that many more were still at risk.

The government calls the figures unsubstantiated.

The UN said last week that the Tigers are forcibly holding thousands of people inside the war zone and making them fight or build defences.

The rebels say people are staying out of choice. But nearly 44,000 have fled so far this year, with 5,000 of these since Saturday.

© Independent Television News Limited 2009. All rights reserved.

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