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END IS NEAR

The top bureaucrat in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry might as well have carried a sign declaring, “The end is near,” as he met with Washington officials and predicted an imminent government victory in its 25-year war with separatist rebels, now trapped on a narrow sliver of land with ammunition running low.

“In a practical sense, we have already achieved victory. The LTTE is no longer a fighting force. … The war is over,” Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona told reporters last week, explaining that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been reduced to a few hundred hard-core rebels holding tens of thousands of civilians as what he called “human shields.”

“We need to finish this [war] and get on with the task of rebuilding,” he added.

Mr. Kohona said the ethnic-Tamil rebels, who once controlled northern and eastern parts of the island nation, are hunkered down in a coastal area “about one-quarter the size of Central Park” in New York.

The official denied reports from some international human rights organizations that government forces are firing artillery into the area and causing widespread civilian casualties. He said shelling would also hit government troops who are “slap-bang next to the LTTE.” Soldiers do return fire when rebels shoot from the coastal enclave, he said.

“There are civilians casualties. There is no doubt about it,” he said, accusing the rebels of driving noncombatants into a war zone and holding them as hostages. “The civilians would not have died if the LTTE had not herded them into the area.”

Mr. Kohona said the government sends food into the rebel enclave, essentially feeding civilians and combatants alike. The government also is caring for more than 60,000 civilians in refugee camps with adequate food, shelter and medical aid, he said. The government also has evacuated 7,000 sick or injured civilians by boats.

The government suspects that many rebels are among the evacuees and are living in the refugee camps.

“Not everybody appears to be a civilian,” he said, “but there is no way to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants.”

Mr. Kohona met Friday with Richard A. Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, “to brief him on what is going on.” Mr. Boucher urged the foreign secretary to exercise “extreme caution” to avoid civilian casualties.

“We hope the United States will continue to use its influence in a positive manner,” Mr. Kohona said, adding that he sees no difference in U.S. policy toward Sri Lanka under the Obama administration.

The United States, Canada, the European Union and India are among the nations that have declared the LTTE a terrorist organization for its use of suicide bombers and child soldiers.

The LTTE, which launched its rebellion against the ethnic-Sinhalese majority to create a separate Tamil homeland, has failed to hold any region of the island nation, located south of India. Mr. Kohona said Tamil civilians now control the eastern province, once held by the rebels, and that 54 percent of the Tamil population lives near the capital, Colombo.

He said the government’s demand is for unconditional surrender.

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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