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Sri Lanka Gives Tamil Rebels Ultimatum to Surrender


Sri Lanka's government has given Tamil Tiger rebels 24 hours to surrender after troops freed thousands of civilians from rebel-held territory.

Colombo demanded the rebels surrender by noon Tuesday local time (2:30am EDT / 6:30am UTC) or face a final assault on their small enclave in northern Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse says troops opened several routes out of the enclave Monday, allowing about 35,000 civilians to flee. Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped there.

The office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement Monday welcoming the departure of Tamil civilians to safer areas. But, the statement expressed "deep concern" about those remaining in the war zone and the potential for large-scale casualties.

Mr. Ban's office also says he "deplores" Sri Lanka's continued use of heavy weapons near civilians and the rebels' use of force to prevent civilians from fleeing.

SriLanka's air force released video that appears to show people walking to military-controlled areas, where they were screened by Sri Lankan troops. Other footage shows large numbers of people resting on a nearby beach.

Sri Lanka accuses the rebels of using civilians as human shields, while the Tamil rebels accuse the military of attacking government-designated safety zones. Each side denies targeting civilians.

Pro-rebel Web site TamilNet says its correspondent saw almost 300 bodies on Monday while fleeing the enclave.

Sri Lanka's military says three Tamil suicide bombers attacked civilians leaving the zone, killing 17 people, including women and children.

There was no independent confirmation of casualties reported by either side.

Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting for more than 25 years to create an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority.
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