Sri Lanka's military strongly believes that Tamil Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is still holed up in a small coastal strip in the north and has said it is impossible for him to flee the country now.
"I feel Prabhakaran is inside the 10-square-kilometre no-fire-zone holding civilians as human shield. This area is fast shrinking with our troops advancing steadily towards it from various directions and it is almost impossible for him to flee the area now," the army's elite 58 Division Commander Brigadier Shavendra Silva said in Kilinochchi on Friday.
"Prabhakaran is not the type of man who lives on the surface when there is a military operation. I am sure he will be living underground," Brig Silva told reporters in a building that was earlier the political headquarters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and is now the operational hub of the 58 Division.
Quoting the confession of a Tiger leader who surrendered two days ago, Brig Silva said that some of the key leaders of the Tamil Tigers were also with the elusive Prabhakaran in Mullaitivu district.
He said Daya Master, a former media LTTE spokesman, had told military officers that Prabhakaran, 54, had personally told his fighters that he will be with them "till the last moment".
According to Daya Master, key LTTE leaders who were giving the rebel chief company included Soosai, who heads the now battered Sea Tigers, the intelligence unit leader Pottu Amman and military strategist Bhanu.
Brig Silva said an estimated 106,000 Tamil civilians - men, women and children - had so far fled the LTTE zone and taken shelter in military-held areas.
He said he did not know how many more civilians were still with the Tigers.
Some of the fleeing civilians told reporters flown here from Colombo that the LTTE on many occasions have shot at civilians aiming to prevent them from leaving the areas controlled by them.
"The situation in the LTTE-held areas is getting worse. They warn us, beat us and shoot at us for not to come to the army-controlled areas. My small family of three has gone through hell there for the past two month," said a middle-aged father who had just crossed to the government-held areas with his wife and four-year-old son.
"Prices of commodities are skyrocketing in the LTTE-held areas. Now that we have come to the government-held areas, we can be sure of our lives and future," a 60-year-old woman said while receiving a biscuit packet from the army.
Brig Silva said those who enter the government-held areas were fully screened, obviously for security reasons, before being sent to the welfare centres and refugee camps in the north.
He said his troops had already captured six kilometres of the no-fire-zone, and added that high concentration of civilians in the remaining NFZ was bound to slow down the future military advance.
The military advancement until now had been rapid throughout Sri Lanka's north, dealing solid blows to the insurgent group that many had thought could never be vanquished.
"Our main aim of this operation is to free civilians from the clutches of the LTTE. We want to rescue them unharmed as we have been doing thus far," he said.
According to the military, the LTTE was still putting up resistance, firing away 122 mm artillery.
"The LTTE is firing but we are not retaliating because of fears that we will hit the civilians. We are using only small arms and carrying out targeted attacks. We don't mind spending more time to recapture the entire area," said Brig Silva.
"At least 15 soldiers were killed and about 75 injured during the past four or five days due to LTTE artillery fire.
"The military operation will end when we fully rescue the remaining civilians from the LTTE. And that will be the end of the LTTE," Brigadier Silva said.
Prabhakaran, who has led the violent Tamil separatist campaign since founding the LTTE in 1976, has in the past vowed never to be taken alive.
Like all LTTE fighters, he is known to wear a cyanide vial around his neck, to be bitten to avoid capture.