Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sri Lanka Takes Rebel Land; Surrender Deadline Passes

Sri Lanka’s army said it captured more territory from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as the government’s deadline passed for the rebels to surrender.

Soldiers took control of areas near the northeastern port of Mullaitivu after opening a safe route yesterday that allowed about 49,000 civilians to leave, the government said today.

“No rebels have surrendered,” Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, said in a phone interview from the capital, Colombo, today. “The army has captured more territory and the humanitarian operation to rescue civilians is on and we will not stop it.”

Sri Lanka’s government yesterday gave the remaining Tamil Tiger fighters in Mullaitivu 24 hours to surrender and end the group’s 26-year fight for a separate homeland in the north and east of the South Asian island nation. The deadline to surrender passed at noon local time today.

Army units “established their positions across the no-fire zone from Puthumathalan to the beachhead” early today, the Defense Ministry said on its Web site.

An estimated 200 rebels, including Velupillai Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader, are holed up in the area in northeastern Mullaitivu district, Nanayakkara said earlier.

Fight to Finish

“Prabhakaran will not surrender and he will fight to the finish,” N. Manoharan, senior fellow at the Center for Land Warfare Studies, in New Delhi, said in a telephone interview. “Surrender is out of the question.”

The government says rebel forces have been driven into a security zone on the coast after the army captured their bases in the north. The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 70,000 people since 1983.

The escape of civilians removes the final obstacle to an all-out military offensive, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a statement yesterday. “It is now all over for the Tigers,” Rajapaksa said.

“The government’s ‘final warning’ to the Tamil Tigers should not be considered a final warning to the thousands of trapped civilians,” Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement today.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said civilians still in the conflict zone must be protected.

Cease-Fire Call

The LTTE called on the Sri Lankan government to stop its military offensive and accept an April 16 appeal by nations including the U.S. for a cease-fire, TamilNet, a Web site that gives reports from the Tamil perspective, reported yesterday. It cited a statement by the group’s political wing.

The LTTE reiterated it’s ready for a cease-fire without preconditions and is prepared to explore “peaceful means to resolve the conflict,” according to the statement. The fight for a separate homeland will continue and Sri Lanka will never be “able to live in peace.”

The army’s offensive caused hundreds of casualties, TamilNet reported yesterday. Most civilians fled toward LTTE- controlled areas while about 8,000 were trapped and held by the army, it said.

Tamil Tiger fighters drove army units back in some of the areas of the security zone late yesterday, TamilNet said.

Accounts from the battlefield are difficult to verify as outside observers are barred from the area.

“Both sides need to show far greater concern for civilians, or many more civilians will die,” Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said.

International aid agencies must be allowed into the area now that civilians have been brought out, Ban said.

There is enough food and shelter to accommodate the latest influx of civilians as well as aiding about 65,000 people already in makeshift camps in the north after fleeing the fighting, the UN said.