04/21/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Army issues ultimatum to Tamil Tigers

Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry says rebels have been checkmated, announces final assault. Army issues warning, calling on rebel forces to give up their weapons. Tens of thousands of civilians are in flight.
Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) –  Sri Lankan Army spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara has confirmed the government’s ultimatum to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): either they surrender unconditionally or face the armed forces in the 18 Km2 that remain in rebel hands. The ultimatum expires at mid noon today.

Today the 58th Division of the Sri Lankan Army broke through rebel defences on the eastern flank of the no fire zone.

Military sources said that at least 39,000 civilians caught in the combat zone were able to flee. 

The Defence Ministry and the state-owned TV station in Colombo have been showing images of thousands of people crossing the Nanthi Kadal lagoon, in north-eastern Mullaitivu district, an area where rebels and army are still fighting. Many of them are wounded; others are showing signs of exhaustion.

The Defence Ministry, which yesterday characterised clashes with the LTTE as the greatest hostage rescue operation ever carried out, today said that it checkmated the rebels.

Military sources also announced that the LTTE’s supreme leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was wounded during bombing a few months ago.

For many analysts the flight of civilians means that the army has no obstacle for a final push.

“The process of the complete defeat of the LTTE has just begun,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa said.

For their part Tamil rebels called yesterday’s operation by the army a civilian bloodbath. According to the LTTE, at least a thousand civilians were killed as a result of indiscriminate bombardment.

The army has countered rebel claims by saying that the Tamil Tigers used civilians as human shields and that some blew themselves up among the refugees to prevent them from fleeing.

In the meantime thousands of people remain trapped in the combat zone; tens of thousands according to the United Nations.

In recent days the International Red Cross has sounded the alarm because of the deteriorating humanitarian crisis that is result of shortages in drugs and essential items for people displaced by the conflict.

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