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India: 70,000 trapped in Sri Lanka war zone

  • Story Highlights
  • India urges Tamil Tiger rebels to allow civilians to leave Sri Lankan war zone
  • Sri Lankan troops, Tamil fighters locked in battle for control of rebels' territory
  • India estimates up to 70,000 are trapped in the region by the conflict
  • Tamil Tigers have been fighting for independent homeland since 1983
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- India on Wednesday urged Sri Lanka's Tamil rebels to "release" civilians, who it said numbered about 70,000 in Sri Lanka's war zone.

A Sri Lankan soldier poses in front of a Tamil Tigers emblem in the rebel group's former military headquarters.

A Sri Lankan soldier poses in front of a Tamil Tigers emblem in the rebel group's former military headquarters.

India is ready to help evacuate them, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Indian parliament.

"Estimates on the number of civilians trapped vary, but 70,000 or so are estimated to be there now. The LTTE were reportedly using them as human shields," he said, referring to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also known as the Tamil Tigers.

"As the conflict enters what may be the final phase of military operations, the LTTE would best serve the interest of the Tamils by immediately releasing all civilians and laying down arms," Mukherjee added.

He noted that some civilians had either been caught in cross-fire or "stopped and even killed" by Tamil rebels as they tried to escape.

Government troops and the Tamil Tigers are locked in a battle over the rebels' remaining territory in northern Sri Lanka's Vanni region.

The rebels have been fighting for an independent homeland for the country's ethnic Tamil minority since 1983.

Tens of thousands of people have fled the region as government forces have advanced and rebels have been pushed into a smaller and smaller patch of land.

CNN's Harmeet Shah Singh contributed to this report.

All About Liberation Tigers of Tamil EelamSri Lanka

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