Death Toll Continues to Rise in Sri Lanka

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the Associated Press

Death Toll Continues to Rise in Sri Lanka

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Mumbai's Tamil community members hold placards during a protest rally in Mumbai, India, Sunday, March 1, 2009, demanding a cease-fire in Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - At least 10 Sri Lankan civilians were killed and dozens more wounded Sunday when artillery shells fell inside a government-designated "safe zone" in the heart of Tamil Tiger rebel territory, a health official said.

Government forces have driven the rebels from most of their strongholds in recent months and have boxed them into a tiny coastal territory in the northeast. A 7.5-mile (12-kilometer) -long "safe zone" serves as a haven for tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside rebel territory.

Dr. Thurairaja Varatharajah said six people died at a makeshift hospital inside rebel territory, and he saw four more bodies scattered among the huts of displaced people.

He said 48 wounded civilians were also admitted to the hospital, which he runs out of a school. Many of the victims suffered burns from the exploding shells, Varatharajah said.

It was unclear who fired the shells. Varatharajah said they appeared to have come from an area where government forces are stationed.

The military and rebels did not comment. Government officials have repeatedly denied targeting civilians.

Humanitarian groups estimate that 200,000 people are trapped in the fighting zone and face the risk of being caught in the crossfire.

Top United Nations humanitarian officials urged the rebels Friday to allow civilians to flee the fighting, saying there are "credible reports" that some people trying to leave have been shot.

Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic majority Sinhalese.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

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