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* Truce period ends, civilians are still held up in northern Sri Lanka
Sunday, February 1, 2009, 7:07 GMT, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Feb 01, Colombo: The 48-hour truce period Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa offered to the LTTE to allow stranded civilians to move into safe areas expired Saturday night but the rebels continue to hold the people ignoring the ultimatum.

"LTTE terrorists violating the objective of the safe area, moved heavy artillery batteries and mortar guns over civilians endangering their safety also attempting to draw civilian casualties in a military retaliation," the Defence Ministry said.

Defence sources said the rebels are manning a forward defence line in the outer perimeters of the Safe Zone and they have also “cluttered” the area with land mines to prevent civilians from reaching the government-controlled territory.

The United Nations estimate some 250,000 civilians are trapped in the battlefield now limited to an area of less than 300 square kilometers in the northeast jungles.

Meanwhile Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said the 48-hour ultimatum declared by the President is an eye-opener for the non governmental organizations and the international community to urge the LTTE to release the civilians.

The rebel political chief B. Nadesan said that the LTTE has not imposed restrictions on anyone to leave the war zone but the civilians want to stay.

"We have been very clear that any individual who wishes to leave the combat zone has an individual right to move anywhere," Nadesan was quoted.

Defence analysts however point out that the LTTE imposed restrictions on civilian movement even during the peace time holding people to leave a relative behind as ransom if they want to travel out of the rebel held area.

The analysts say the rebels are holding the civilians to restrict the army from advancing further as more civilians would be killed and the military would draw international outrage.

Sri Lankan government has repeatedly reiterated its stance that there will be no ceasefire and the military operations will continue until the country is totally free from the LTTE control.

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