Sri Lanka asks Prabhakaran to surrender by Tuesday noon (Lead)

April 20th, 2009 - 8:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, April 20 (IANS) Closing in on the last Tamil Tiger stronghold, Sri Lanka Monday ordered elusive rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and his fighters to surrender by Tuesday noon or face death.
“We have issued the last and final 24-hour ultimatum to Prabhakaran and his group to surrender,” defence ministry spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters Monday.

“The ultimatum began this noon (Monday and) will expire tomorrow (Tuesday) noon. Otherwise, they will have to face the military course of action,” he said.

The ultimatum to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came a few hours after the defence authorities said over 30,000 civilians fled Sri Lanka’s northern war zone, as troops moved deep into the last Tamil Tiger stronghold in Mullaitivu district.

“Latest reports received from the army’s 58 Division indicate that over 30,000 civilians held hostage by LTTE terrorists at Puthumathalan and Amplalavanpokkani areas have been liberated,” the defence ministry said, adding several thousand more civilians were waiting to be rescued.

It said the mass rescue operation reached a significant phase when troops captured the three-kilometre long earth bund built by the LTTE on the western border of the no fire zone (NFZ).

According to the defence ministry, the mass exodus of Tamil civilians began Monday morning when the troops “opened a safe route for the hostages to come out of the LTTE grip”.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces personally visited the operation room of the Sri Lanka Air Force to witness the mass exodus of civilians via satellite images and the way the operation was conducted some 350 km northeast of Colombo to rescue the civilians.

The president’s office in a statement said this surge of civilians “is an apt response to all those calling for a temporary pause in the humanitarian military operations of the government or a longer ceasefire, to enable the Tamil civilians to flee the armed grip of the LTTE”.

“The record has shown that such well-intentioned pauses are non-effective with the ruthless terrorists of the LTTE.”

Hailing the efforts by the troops, it said that the exodus in the island’s north “is no less a massive vote for freedom than the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989″.

“The thousands seeking their safety under the Sri Lankan flag is a clear vote of confidence in the security forces. They have given the lie to those who kept warning of an impending bloodbath and humanitarian catastrophe,” it said.

There was no response from the LTTE, which has been fighting to carve out a separate state in the northern and eastern region of the island.

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