Colombo: Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on Sunday admitted defeat in their battle for an independent ethnic homeland, with their few remaining fighters encircled in the jungle by soldiers.
The Tigers’ armed campaign against the government left at least 70,000 people dead in decades of pitched battles, suicide attacks, bomb strikes and assassinations.
“This battle has reached its bitter end,” the LTTE’s chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, said in a statement carried on the pro-rebel Tamilnet website.
‘Militarily’ victorious: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse arrives in Colombo on Sunday after a trip abroad during which he announced that the LTTE had been defeated in the 25-year civil war. Reuters
“We remain with one last choice—to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer.”
Meanwhile, a body believed to be that of Tamil Tiger founder leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has been found but the identity of the corpse has not been confirmed, Sri Lankan military sources said on Sunday.
“They are taking the body for checks to confirm it is the real Prabhakaran,” one military official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
However, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara denied the report.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse returned to Colombo on Sunday after a trip abroad during which he announced that his troops had defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels.
The Sri Lankan President was welcomed by his cabinet at the airport, and was blessed by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim clergy.
Hundreds of supporters waved flags at the tightly guarded airport and set off firecrackers across the country to celebrate his return.
Addressing the G11 summit in Jordan on Saturday, Rajapakse said he was returning home as a leader who had “crushed” the LTTE, which fought for a separate state since 1972.
“My government, with the total commitment of our armed forces, has in an unprecedented humanitarian operation finally defeated the LTTE militarily,” he said.
He said government troops had rescued 210,000 civilians who were “being used as human shields by the LTTE”.
The last remaining civilians trapped by fighting in northern Sri Lanka poured across the front lines on Sunday as Tamil Tiger suicide bombers targeted troops in the final battles of the quarter-century civil war, the military said.
“Suicide cadres are coming in front of troops in the frontline and exploding themselves,” military spokesman Nanayakkara said.
Troops killed at least 70 masquerading as civilians trying to flee in six boats via a lagoon overnight, he said.
Only two years ago, the LTTE controlled nearly a third of the island nation and operated an effectively autonomous Tamil state with courts, schools and a civil service.
But the government launched a huge military offensive which drove the Tigers out of the east and then the north, before trapping the remaining guerrillas on the coast.
The military’s final push for victory has come at the cost of thousands of innocent lives, the United Nations has said, with the government’s brutal tactics attracting widespread international condemnation.
About the LTTE’s announcement, military spokesman Nanayakkara said, “They were actually defeated some time ago, but they have formally accepted defeat only now. They fought for an eelam (separate state) that they could never win. It was only a waste of lives. They have caused massive death and destruction over the years. Finally they themselves have realized that it is all over.” Sri Lankan military leaders say they held back on their final assault to avoid civilian deaths, though thousands are still thought to have been killed in months of heavy fighting.
The Tigers’ defeat is thought unlikely to bring peace to Sri Lanka, with Tamil fighters instead returning to the guerrilla hit-and-run tactics that they had used to devastating effect in the past.
C. Bryson Hull and Ranga Sirilal of Reuters contributed to this story.