/ 8 March 2009

Government claims 100 Tamil Tigers killed

More than 100 Tamil Tiger rebels have been killed in two days of fighting in Sri Lanka as they tried to break a military stranglehold, the defence ministry said on Sunday.

They died after the army beat back a series of counterattacks by the rebels against advancing government forces in the district of Mullaittivu in the northeast.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who were in control of large swathes of the north and east of Sri Lanka less than two years ago, have now been cornered into a small patch of jungle.

“As the Mullaittivu battle reached its last phase, the LTTE terrorists made several desperate attempts in vain to infiltrate the
military forward defences,” the defence ministry statement said.

“Over 100 terrorists were killed and as many injured since Friday.”

The government accused the Tigers of deploying heavy mortars and artillery guns inside a designated security zone where large numbers of civilians have gathered to shelter from the conflict.

Concern over the danger to non-combatants has mounted as government troops fight to wipe out the remnant rebels, with the International Committee of the Red Cross saying hundreds of civilians have been killed in crossfire.

After the troops pushed the Tigers into a narrow strip of jungle, military leaders have said they hope to crush the guerrillas by next month — a victory that would end 37 years of armed conflict on the island.

Sri Lanka’s top defence official, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, said recently that the offensive against the Tigers had slowed in a bid to ensure the safety of civilians whom he said were being used by the rebels as human shields.

Rajapakse, President Mahinda Rajapakse’s younger brother, says the military has stopped using long-range weapons and air attacks against remaining rebels, who are known to mingle with civilians.

The government says more than 36 000 civilians have escaped from the LTTE and sought shelter in government-held camps in the island’s north.

It estimates 70 000 non-combatants remain trapped, but the United Nations says the number could be about 200 000 while Tamil groups outside the country fear it could be more than 300 000.

There has been no reaction from the Tigers to the latest fighting, but the rebels’ calls for a truce have been rejected by the government.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the Tigers launched a campaign in 1972 to carve out a homeland for minority Tamils in the majority Sinhalese island’s north and east.

Several internationally-backed attempts to halt the conflict have failed. – AFP