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Fighting Continues in Sri Lanka as Military, Tamil Rebels Face Off

In Sri Lanka, government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels engaged in a new round of deadly fighting in a civil war conflict that has left thousands dead or displaced. Ravi Nessman, the Associated Press bureau chief in Colombo, offers insight on the story.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    On the northern tip of Sri Lanka, tens of thousands of people are trapped in a tiny strip of land between the Bay of Bengal and an inland lagoon. They're caught in the crossfire between the Tamil Tigers rebel group occupying the area and the Sri Lankan army.

    Some 200,000 civilians have managed to flee the combat zone, but another 50,000 are believed to be still there.

    Yesterday, President Obama spoke out for the first time on the crisis. He urged both sides to take steps to end the fighting.

  • U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    We have a humanitarian crisis that's taking place in Sri Lanka. And I've been increasingly saddened by the desperate news in recent days.

    Without urgent action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe. Now's the time, I believe, to put aside some of the political issues that are involved and to put the lives of the men and women and children who are innocently caught in the crossfire, to put them first.

    So I urge the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and let civilians go. Their forced recruitment of civilians and their use of civilians as human shields is deplorable.

    The government should stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including several hospitals. The government should live up to its commitment to not use heavy weapons in the conflict zone.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    This civil war has been raging for more than 25 years, making it the longest-running war in Asia.

    For more, I talked with Ravi Nessman, the Associated Press bureau chief in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.

    Ravi Nessman, thanks for joining us. There are reports that today thousands of civilians escaped from the conflict zone under fire. What can you tell us about that?

  • RAVI NESSMAN, Associated Press:

    Well, from what the military's telling us, nearly 3,000 civilians waded across a lagoon to escape from rebel-controlled territory to government-held territory. They say that, as these civilians were swimming across, they were being shot at by the rebels, and four of them were killed and 14 were injured.

    Now, the rebels have denied holding the civilians as human shields, but there have been pretty credible reports and witness reports that said that they've shot at civilians trying to flee before.