- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) - Sri Lankan forces killed 420 Tamil Tigers in the last three days and drove the rebels into a “no-fire” zone crowded with tens of thousands of civilians trying to flee the fighting, the military said Sunday.

Government troops captured the entire Puthukkudiyiruppu area, the last rebel stronghold on the edge of the safety zone in the island’s war-ravaged north, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

He said the Tamil Tigers are now confined to the “no-fire” zone in a narrow strip of land along a beach in northeastern Sri Lanka.

The latest fighting is likely to raise concerns of the United Nations and aid groups, which have already expressed worries for the safety of trapped civilians.

The military has accused the rebels of building fortifications inside the “no-fire” zone. It has not said how it plans to capture the remaining rebels while safeguarding the civilians.

Government forces have been saying for months they are in a final push to defeat the rebels _ the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam _ and end 25 years of civil war after a string of major victories in which the rebel administrative capital and main bases were captured.

A military statement said the rebels are “now facing a total annihilation as the soldiers are engaged in a man-to-man combat against them in the last terror pocket.”

The military does not give figures for its own casualties, and accounts of battles cannot be verified because independent journalists are barred from the war zone.

The “no-fire” zone was declared earlier this year by the government as a place for tens of thousands of civilians trapped by the fighting to go. The small strip of coastal land measures just 7.7 square miles (20 square kilometers).

The military and aid organizations have accused the rebels of firing artillery shells from the “no-fire” zone and holding the civilians there as human shields. The rebels have denied the charges.

The U.N. says an estimated 150,000 to 190,000 people are trapped, resulting in dozens of deaths each day. But the government says more than 23,000 civilians escaped last month and 30,000 to 40,000 still remain.

The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have faced decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.


On the Net:

Ministry of Defense: https://www.defence.lk

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