LTTE chief in shrunken war zone as 95,000 civilians flee (Roundup)

Colombo, April 22 (Inditop) The elusive Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Sri Lankan government believes, is in the shrunken war zone in the island’s north from where over 95,000 civilians have fled. Two second-rung Tamil Tigers surrendered to the advancing army Wednesday, the military said.

Defence spokesman and Minister of Foreign Employment, Keheliya Rambukwella, said that the troops have rapidly advanced into the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) held areas and captured fresh territories amid fierce gun-battles.

“The LTTE has only an eight kilometre strip or about 12 to 14 square kilometres of land area left under their control… The government strongly believes that (the LTTE chief) Vellupillai Prabhakaran is still inside the no fire zone,” Rambukwella told reporters here Wednesday.

Neighbour India Wednesday urged Colombo to extend all facilities to the UN and countries seeking to help in the evacuation of civilians from the war zone in the island nation.

Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee urged Sri Lanka to ensure that relief material India has sent to the country is distributed through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“We have requested the Sri Lankan authorities that whatever you say or do, you please take the international authorities into confidence, particularly the United Nations, so that they know there is no violation of human liberty and human rights,” Mukherjee said in Kolkata.

“We have no sympathy for the terrorists. But we have every sympathy for the civilians. We want the evacuation of all civilians,” he said.

Sri Lanka plans to send President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother Basil as a special envoy to brief India about the situation in the strife-hit island.

“There is a plan for him (Basil Rajapaksa) to come to India. But we do not have a specific date,” Sri Lanka’s ambassador to India C.R. Jayasinghe told IANS Wednesday.

Envoy Jayasinghe defended the “final assault” launched by Sri Lankan troops against the LTTE in Mullaitivu district.

“It’s an operation mounted for humanitarian reasons. The exercise is necessary to ensure the exit of civilians from the LTTE area,” the envoy said.

The critical situation in Sri Lanka led Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, whose DMK party is a key member of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, to call for a shutdown in the state Thursday to protest against “civilian atrocities”.

Smaller parties have warned of bloodbath in Tamil Nadu if LTTE’s feared leader Velupillai Prabhakaran came to harm in the military onslaught.

Karunanidhi’s appeal for a “voluntary shutdown” Thursday to press for a permanent ceasefire in Sri Lanka triggered derision from the opposition.

“The unprecedented genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka is being feebly countered by Karunanidhi with ineffective measures like shutdowns and telegrams to the centre instead of forcing the issue,” AIADMK boss Jayalalitha said in a statement Wednesday.

The two LTTE leaders who surrendered to the Sri Lankan army were identified as Tigers’ media coordinator Velayutham Dayanithi alias Daya Master and V.K. Pancharatnam well-known as George, who was English translator to former LTTE political wing head S. Thamilselvan.

“These two LTTE leaders surrendered to the troops at Puthumathalan no-fire-zone this (Wednesday) morning,” Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS.

The surrender of these two LTTE officials came a day after the Tamil Tigers ignored Colombo’s 24-hour ultimatum to surrender.

Brigadier Nanayakkara said that over 95,000 people have fled the LTTE-held areas and entered the government-held areas since Monday morning with the advancing troops cornering the Tamil Tigers into a mere 14 sq km coastal land strip in north-eastern Mullaitivu district.

The total number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) since the beginning of this year has now gone beyond 165,000.

“Of the total IDPs (who) crossed over to the government-held areas since the beginning of this year, about 3,000 people have self-confessed that they had functioned as members of the LTTE,” Brig. Nanayakkara said.

The military said that the troops have advanced beyond the Puthumathalan junction in the no-fire-zone and extended their defence line to the eastern edge of the beach “virtually breaking the no-fire-zone into two major portions by Tuesday evening”.

“The troops have thus marked the complete capture of a box-type strip in the Puthumathalan area, including a hospital in the no-fire-zone,” the military said.

There is growing concern in Western capitals about the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka. But Colombo has rejected calls to order a truce in fighting, saying this would only benefit the now cornered LTTE that has waged a civil war for the past quarter century.