Colombo : Sri Lankan troops Monday launched a “decisive tactical manoeuvre” to free thousands of civilians trapped in the Mullaitivu war-zone, a day after dealing a major military blow to the Tamil Tigers by capturing their last military bastion, defence authorities said here.
“Sri Lankan security forces have launched a decisive tactical manoeuvre to free hundreds of civilians held hostage by LTTE in the thin 17 sq km coastal land strip at Mullaitivu,” the defence ministry said Monday.
The operation to free civilians came a day after the advancing troops seized control of Puthukkudiyiruppu where the rebels have maintained several military and naval bases and armoury over the past three decades.
Describing it as the “largest humanitarian intervention by a conventional military force in modern times”, the defence ministry said that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) “tasted the worst defeat” Sunday when it lost over 450 guerrillas, including a dozen top-rung battled-hardened leaders in its failed bid to defend Puthukkudiyiruppu.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa Sunday night announced that the current fight-to-finish military campaign against the LTTE was about to end and urged the rebel leadership to set free thousands of civilians and surrender to the security forces to avoid total annihilation.
Speaking to party supporters at his tightly-guarded Temple Trees residence, President Rajapaksa said that the Tigers were unable to face the military thrust and were now hiding in the no-fire-zone holding thousands of innocent civilians as human shield.
“The only option available for the Tiger leadership is to lay down arms and surrender to our heroic troops if it wants to save the lives of the remaining cadres,” Rajapaksa said at the function amid loud applause from his party loyalists.
“The LTTE should allow the civilians to go free and surrender to the security forces,” said Rajapaksa, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
There was no reaction from the LTTE, which has been fighting to carve out a separate state in the island’s northeast over the past quarter century.