Declaring that Sri Lanka was on the threshold of the "final elimination" of terror from its soil, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has pledged that Tamils in the embattled north would be given "equality and all rights" after the capture of the entire LTTE-held territory by the security forces.
"The stronghold of terror, once believed to be invincible such as Kilinochchi, Elephant Pass and Mullaittivu, have fallen in rapid succession, bringing the final elimination of terror from our motherland and the dawn of true freedom to all our people well within our reach," he said in his message on the eve of the country's 61st Independence Day tomorrow.
Taking note of achievements of the security forces which will help strengthen the country's "freedom", Rajapaksa paid "well deserved" tributes to the "heroic forces" of Sri Lanka.
Without naming anybody, he said that many who were once critical of the country's operations to eradicate terrorism from its soil were now citing Sri Lanka and the success of its troops as an example on how the menace should be defeated.
"As we move towards a larger freedom, our thoughts go out to the innocent Tamil people of the north who remain in bondage under the ruthless forces of terror who claimed to be their liberators," Rajapaksa said in his message last night.
"I pledge to you today, that these people who share our motherland, will be liberated and given the equality and all rights that they are entitled to, under the Constitution," the Sri Lankan President said.
Separately, Rajapaksa urged members of the clergy in the embattled north to return to government-controlled areas along with the trapped civilians, assuring them that the authorities had taken all measures to cater to their welfare. The President made this appeal when the Papal Pro Nuncio in Sri Lanka, Monsignor Mario Zenari, called on him yesterday.
Rajapaksa requested Zenari to convey his message to members of the clergy in the conflict zone and said that if they returned to Government-controlled areas it would greatly help authorities to succeed in efforts to "liberate" the people in the north from the clutches of terrorism.
According to sources, priests and nuns belonging to four districts -- Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi -- were still with the displaced people.
The sources said that six priests and 10 nuns from Mannar and Vavuniya and 23 priests and 15 nuns from Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi had been stranded in the restive region.
Meanwhile, a group of Sri Lankan bishops urged the LTTE not to use trapped civilians to gain military advantage.
"There should be no restriction of the civilians' right to life and movement," they said in a statement.
The signatories to the statement were Thomas Savundranayagam, Roman Catholic Bishop of Jaffna; Rayappu Joseph, Roman Catholic Bishop of Mannar; Norbert Andradi, Roman Catholic Bishop of Anuradhapura; Kumara Ilangasingha, Anglican Bishop of Kurunegala; and Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo.