Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said his government will seriously consider any plea from India to hand over LTTE supremo Vellupillai Prabhakaran if he is caught, asserting that his troops were advancing towards tiger nerve centres.
At the same time, Rajapaksa ruled out the possibility of any ceasefire with the rebels, implying that the current offensive would be taken to its logical end.
On the elusive LTTE chief, he said, "You should realise Prabhakaran was involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Sri Lankan government will consider any request for his extradition if he is caught".
"The law of the land will take its own course if and when he is nabbed," the president, who is also the defence minister and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said.
India and Sri Lanka only have an Extradition Arrangement short of a treaty and apparently any deportation of wanted people can be undertaken only on grounds of mutual requests.
At a dinner with foreign corespondents at his heavily guarded official residence last night, Rajapaksa talked at length on the ongoing army advance against LTTE strongholds in the north, especially their nerve centres at Killinochchi.
Describing the advances made by his forces as "unprecedented in the last 20 years," the Sri Lankan President said his troops were running past LTTE outposts one after the other.
However, he declined to give any time frame for fully defeating the LTTE, saying the security forces were moving forward successfully for liberating the areas under the rebel control.
Rajapaksa said the top brass of the Sri Lankan defence including the service commanders were satisfied with the progress in their campaign.
"We will completely crush the LTTE, but I do not want to set a time frame for it. It can be done though it will definitely take some time," the president said.
During his interaction with the media, the Sri Lankan president ruled out any question of declaring a ceasefire with the LTTE, saying there could be nothing short of total surrender acceptable to it.
On reported feelers from LTTE for a ceasefire, Rajapaksa said, "they have not contacted us in this regard but the LTTE should surrender along with their arms and ammunitions".
"They (LTTE) will be allowed to surrender, but there is no question of having another ceasefire agreement (with them). I don't think there is any need to hold talks with the LTTE in the future," the President said.
"Prabhakaran and (LTTE intelligence chief) Pottu Amman will have to surrender with the weapons," he added.
Rajapaksa assured protection to the Tamils in the rebel controlled areas and asked them to come to the "liberated" areas.
"You will see that this will also be fully accomplished (when the whole lot of people in LTTE areas move to the government areas)," he said.
Rajapaksa said the government rejected the ceasefire declared by the LTTE during the SAARC Summit "because we knew they could not do anything".
So confident appeared the Sri Lankan President of the success of the campaign by his troops, he said in reply to questions that post-LTTE, provincial elections would be held in the north after clearing the area.
"Of course we want to do that to allow the Tamil people to elect their own leaders and representatives democratically as they did in the east," he said.
Rajapaksa said he always favoured neutrals to be appointed chief ministers of any provinces and referred to the election of Pillayan as the chief minister of the eastern province, who had the maximum backing.
On his reaction to Indian Defence Minister A K Antony's remarks that India has concerns over the plight of Tamils caught in the war between the army and the LTTE in the rebel controlled areas, Rajapaksa merely said "our defence authorities would have been contacted in this regard".
On relations with India, Rajapaksa said he was "very happy" with the assistance being rendered to Sri Lanka, while not elaborating.
It may be recalled that the Sri Lankan Army Chief Sarath Fonseka recently said that though India was not giving arms to the Island nation due to its own compulsions, nevertheless it was providing training to about 800 Sri Lankan security personnel every year free of cost.