/ 7 April 2009

Rebel myth shattered, says Sri Lankan president

The myth that the Tamil Tiger rebels were unbeatable has been shattered with a final victory over the separatists inevitable, Sri Lanka’s president was quoted on Tuesday as saying.

A string of victories by government forces has now pushed the rebels — who at their height controlled one-third of Sri Lanka — into a small pocket of jungle and beach on the island’s northeastern coast.

”The mythical belief that the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] is unconquerable is no more. Many past leaders were suspicious of our own strengths in defeating terrorism and they thought a war would be never-ending,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa was quoted as saying on a government website.

”However, the present government believed in its potential and comprehensively defeated the cruel LTTE. Our heroic soldiers crushed every form of LTTE resistance in the battlefield,” he said.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for a separate state for ethnic Tamils in Sri Lanka’s north and east since 1983 in a war that has killed more than 70 000 people.

Rajapaksa has already ruled out a ceasefire and has called on the rebels to surrender to ensure the safety of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in their dwindling territory.

Military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said on Tuesday that 525 bodies of Tamil Tigers have been recovered since April 1.

The Tigers are now confined to a narrow strip of land that earlier had been declared a ”no-fire” zone by the government as a place for civilians to shelter from the fighting. It measures just 20 square kilometres.

The safety of the civilians has become a major concern internationally with the United Nations estimating 150 000 to 190 000 people are trapped there, and dozens dying each day. The government says only 30 000 to 40 000 remain.

Army chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka said he expected an exodus of trapped civilians ”at any moment”.

He was quoted as saying on a military website that a considerable number of middle-ranking Tiger leaders had been killed and the LTTE was ”virtually paralysed, unable to sustain [a] military onslaught.”

Fonseka told United States Ambassador Robert Blake that he believed Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran may still be hiding in the area.

The military has accused the rebels of building fortifications in the ”no-fire” zone in preparation for a final showdown in a civil war that has spanned 25 years. The government has not said how it plans to flush out the remaining militants.

Accounts from the front line cannot be verified because independent journalists are barred from the war zone.

The United Nations and aid organisations have accused the rebels of firing artillery shells from the ”no-fire” zone and holding civilians there as human shields. The rebels have denied the allegations. The rebels have accused the military of shelling the zone, which the government denies. — Sapa-AP