As LTTE ignored the 24-hour government deadline to surrender, Sri Lankan forces on Tuesday launched new offensives and captured more territory from the Tamil Tigers as thousands of trapped civilians continued to flee the northern war zone.
Minutes after the expiry of the ultimatum to the LTTE Supremo V Prabhakaran to lay down arms, Sri Lankan forces seized Puthumathalan hospital and breached the eastern coast of the no-fire zone, a government spokesman said.
The Lankan forces attack virtually sliced the small 17 sq kilometers strip of land held by the Tigers into two and came as the number of people fleeing the war zone crossed a record figure of 52,000."The LTTE has not responded to the government's call for surrender, so our troops are taking effective action to save the lives of innocent civilians," the spokesman said.
So far, the only response from the pro-LTTE website was the reiteration of the demand by the organisation's political head B Nadesan that the Tigers were ready for a cease fire monitored by a third party.However, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said the government's offer of surrender still stands.
"Prabhakaran and his aides could lay down their arms after all the civilians have been rescued from the no-fire zone," he said. "If he does not do so," Rajapaksa made it clear the government would consider other options for him and his aides.
The Sri Lankan President said as far as Prabhakaran was concerned he would of course have to appear in Court to face charges that had been brought against him. He also said that even India wanted LTTE chief for the killing of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the Daily Mirror reported.
"I saw what the LTTE has done to civilians who tried to escape its clutches. Two LTTE suicide cadres had exploded themselves to prevent civilians from escaping. Several were killed and those in a critical condition were brought to Colombo by air. I was shocked by what I saw," he said.
"It appears the LTTE does not have an option other than seeking the help of the cyanide capsule for their final act of defiance," Rajapaksa said.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Lankan forces entered into the areas of Puthumanthalam and Amapalavanpokkanai in the no-fire zone, where they had rescued over 31,000 civilians on Monday. According to the sources, troops rescued nearly 3000 civilians this morning and walked into the vacated areas. Now, troops have established their positions across the no-fire zone from Puthumathalan to the beachhead.
The maneuver has saved lives of several thousands of civilians trapped in the area extending from Puthumathalan North to the northern border of the NFZ, the sources added.
Aerial observation on Monday revealed that LTTE cadres had been firing indiscriminately at a group consisting of several thousands of civilians attempting to cross over to the cleared areas through the northern borders of no-fire zone."The civilians said they were fired upon by the LTTE as they crossed over to the cleared area. They brought three bodies with them along with several dozens of others having gunshot injuries. They said that they had to leave behind many others gunned down by the Tiger rebels," the defence minister quoted a report to say.
Meanwhile, defence sources said that 17 civilians were killed and 373 others, including 11 children, were injured yesterday as the LTTE rebels attacked the civilians with three suicide bomb blasts and machine gunfire. The injured were rushed to the near by hospitals while some of them were airlifted, the ministry said. Four LTTE rebels, including a senior leader, were killed in east of Puthumathalan.
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan Army Chief Sarath Fonseka said terrorism could be eliminated in the few days as the troops started moving into the peripheries of the no fire zone after the expiry of the 24-hour deadline.
Fonseka said it was up to the LTTE leader and his senior leaders and cadres to surrender to the security forces or to "choose" death. If the rebels surrender, some form of reprieve could be considered, he added.