Sri Lanka's president says government troops will defeat the Tamil Tiger rebels within days. President Mahinda Rajapaksa made the remarks in an address to the nation to mark Sri Lanka's Independence Day. In recent months the military has intensified its offensive against the tigers, restricting them to a small patch of jungle in the northeast.
Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Amid tight security, Sri Lanka celebrated the 61st anniversary of the nation’s independence from British rule. In an address to the nation, President Mahinda Rajapaksa expressed confidence that the long-running civil war will be over soon and the Tigers will be ‘completely defeated’.
A military offensive in recent months has pinned down the Tamil Tigers to a small pocket of jungle. They have lost almost 98 percent of the area they once controlled.
The Tamil Tigers, who are considered terrorists by Colombo and a number of other countries, claim they are fighting for a separate homeland for the ethnic Tamil community living on the island. They have not commented on the recent losses and fighting.
A pro-rebel website, however, accuses the government troops of targeting civilians. The government puts the blame back on the Tigers, saying they are using civilians as human shields. The reports cannot be checked independently as journalists are barred from entering the region.
“Any reports about the figures, casualties, or details about how many people are currently living in the refugee camps, cannot be verified,” says Jochen Schlütter, the head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Sri Lanka.
Aid agencies say an estimated 250,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in the combat zone. The UN says at least 52 people have been killed and dozens injured in the last two days. It also reports that a hospital in the northern Puthukkudiyiruppu area has been hit recently and claims that cluster bombs have been used in the area. But it is not clear who launched these attacks, says UN spokesperson in Colombo Gordon Weiss in an interview with CNN:
"We do not know who's attacked the hospital. The cluster ammunitions did not strike the hospital, they were in the vicinity of the hospital. Our staff have been ducked down into bunkers for the past 18 hours under sustained artillery fire, which included cluster ammunitions this morning."
Calls for political solution
Amid mounting civilian casualties, the international community have urged both sides to cease hostilities. The United States, European Union, Japan and Norway have even called on the Tigers to consider surrendering to avoid more civilian casualties.
The Tamil population living across the globe have also urged a peaceful settlement. In India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, thousands of Tamils took to the street on Wednesday to protest against the fighting.
In Berlin, a demonstration was staged by the Tamils living there. “We want to urge the German government to put a pressure on the Sri Lankan government that they should stop the war and go into peace negotiations with the Tamil tigers and save the civilians,” explains Uthagar Sivaganam, one of the protestors.
President Rajapaksa has so far made no comments on the international demand of a truce or a political solution. However he has urged the country's ethnic groups to unite and assured that the government will look after the displaced Tamils and give them equal rights once the war is over.