Tamil rebels say they are silencing their guns


Colombo : The embattled Tamil rebels have declared that they have decided to silence their guns in north-eastern Sri Lanka where the military says the rebels have been cornered into an area of less than one sq km.

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Tamil rebel International Relations spokesman Selvarasa Pathmanathan told the pro-rebel TamilNet website that they had given up their fight and decided “to silence our guns”.

“This battle has reached its bitter end,” he was quoted as saying hours after the military declared that the rebels were now confined to an area of 400 metres by 600 metres in the north-eastern coastal area which has seen heavy fighting over the past few weeks.

The army has officially announced that all civilians have now been rescued from the rebel held area. Some 12,000 civilians came out Sunday raising the total of number of civilians who escaped from the area to 72,000 in 72 hours.

The figures go well beyond the government estimates of the civilian population. They had previous insisted that only about 20,000 civilians were trapped in the combat zone.

Earlier in the day the army foiled a last-ditch, pre-dawn attempt by Tamil rebels to breach military defences, killing at least 70 fighters and destroying six vessels, a military spokesman said.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the rebels, initially posing as civilians, had crossed a lagoon and tried to breach the defences around 1.30 a.m., but were confronted and killed.

He did not say whether the army suffered any casualties in the incident.

The ministry made no mention about the current state of fighting, though other military sources said there were reports of continuing operations in the area.

The mop-up operations came as the country awaited a formal announcement on the end of the 25-year war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa received a warm welcome on his return to the country from Jordan Sunday as crowds outside the Bandaranaike International Airport waved national flags and cheered.

Rajapaksa declared Saturday from abroad that the Tamil rebels had been finally defeated militarily, but on arrival he made no public statement.

The president had been expected to make a formal announcement in a nationwide address Sunday, but the information department said he would address the nation from parliament Tuesday.

President is expected to make the formal announcement of the military victory announcing the end of the war during the address to the nation. The decision has been taken to address the nation from parliament considering the significance of the event.

The military earlier reported a series of loud explosions in the last rebel enclaves, but have not given details of the damages caused.

However, army sources said that as many as 40 senior members of the movement were believed killed in fighting, but the identities of the members have not been released to the media as yet.

Army sources also claimed earlier that senior rebel leaders, including their chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, were trapped in the combat zone, but the government has not confirmed the fate of those leaders.

An estimated 250,000 civilians have fled the rebel zones since January and are now in refugee camps in the northern province.

Government troops launched their offensive in August 2006 to recapture rebel-held areas in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, and gradually cornered them into a narrow land strip on the northern coast.

The fighting in the coastal area was the most difficult part of the operation, as the troops had to move in an area where thousands of civilians were trapped, with the rebels preventing some of the civilians from leaving.