Sri Lankan military takes last stretch of LTTE-held coast (Second Lead)May 16th, 2009 - 11:52 am ICT by IANS
Colombo, May 16 (DPA) Sri Lankan military Saturday took the final strip of coast held by Tamil Tigers during their offensive to defeat the guerrillas and end the more than 25-year conflict, military officials said.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have now been driven back to an area of less than 1 sq km in the north-east, a military spokesman said, and for the first time in the conflict the rebels have no access to the sea.
The military claimed that senior LTTE leaders, including its chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, remained in the rebel-held area.
Security forces took the last rebel-held coastline by advancing from different directions along the coast and linking up at Kariyalamullaivaikkal village, 395 km north-east of Colombo, the officials said.
Meanwhile, civilians trapped in the war zone continued to flee by wading across a lagoon to enter government-controlled territory.
On Friday, more than 10,000 civilians fled the area, and the government said it believes a similar number of people remained there. Before Friday’s exodus, the UN had estimated 50,000 civilians remained in rebel-held land.
The government and UN have charged the rebels with holding the civilians as human shields while the LTTE has accused Colombo of firing on the area without regard to civilian safety. UN officials have warned that the war zone was becoming a “killing field”.
UN officials, speaking to DPA in Geneva on condition of anonymity, gave “conservative” estimates that 7,000 to 8,000 people have been killed since the end of January.
The LTTE and the government have blamed one another for the civilian deaths. Their claims could not be verified because the government has barred journalists and independent observers from the war zone.
The conflict, in which the LTTE has been fighting for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka’s minority Tamils, has killed more than 70,000 people.
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