President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that the remaining Tamil civilians in north-eastern Sri Lanka would be freed by the Lankan army in 48 hours — indicating a military victory for the government in the quarter century war with the separatist LTTE.
Sri Lankan government spokesman Anusha Palpita said the war would be over by Sunday morning.
“The president (Mahinda Rajapakse) assured that within the next 48 hours the thousands of Tamil civilians will be freed from the clutches of the Tamil Tigers," Palpita said. “All territory will be freed from Tiger control.”
By Friday afternoon, more than 10,000 refugees had moved out of the so-called safe zone in a sliver of a land in coastal Mullaitivu, the military said, adding they had crossed over to government-controlled areas wading through patches of a seasonal lagoon.
According to government estimates, another 10,000 could still be inside the zone.
The UN, however, said as many as 50,000 may be trapped — huddled under plastic sheeting, in shallow bunkers and with little or no food, water or medical facilities.
The announcement came as the International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) suspended its operations fearing for the safety of its own staff in the intense fighting between the LTTE and the military.
The ICRC said its staff were “witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe.”
The ICRC was the only aid agency working to evacuate the injured and ferrying food and medicine for the refugees inside the war zone.
In Colombo, ICRC spokesperson, Sarasi Wijeratne told Hindustan TImes that operations would remain suspended till both the military and the LTTE give security assurances.
There was no information about the whereabouts of LTTE chief V Prabhakaran or other leaders like Pottu Amman and B Nadesan. But the Lankan navy claimed to have arrested the wife and children of Sea Tiger chief Soosai while they were attempting to escape on a boat on Friday morning.
The defence ministry said the military had reached the final phase of their mission. It added that troops of the 58 Division were just 1.5 km short of dominating the whole northeastern coast.