A surge of more than 35,000 displaced Tamil civilians broke out of the LTTE-dominated `no fire zone’ (NFZ) on Monday to government camps braving bullets and a spate of suicide attacks by the rebels.
The suicide attacks on the fleeing civilians claimed at least 17 lives and injured more than 200.
Seizing the movement, the government again gave a deadline to LTTE chief V Prabhakaran and the remaining cadres to surrender within 12 noon on Tuesday. Similar deadlines earlier got no response from the Tamil Tigers.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the “complete defeat” of the LTTE was now imminent. “The (aerial) footage clearly shows that the people are defying the rebels and escaping. They are running to safety,” Rajapaksa told news agencies.
“We have indications where Prabhakaran and the rest of the leaders. We are closing in,” defence ministry spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella, told HT.
More than 30,000, according to government estimates, remain in the NFZ located in Mullaitivu. The rapid developments and government statements of the day came in the background of a chilling warning from the LTTE. “The LTTE and the fight for our freedom will continue. The methods may vary but Sri Lanka will never be able to live in peace as it imagines a military victory will bring,” the rebel group said in a statement. It added: “The LTTE would like to emphasise that it is always ready to explore peaceful means to resolve the conflict.” Earlier, Lankan army troops had to be redeployed to control the flood of men, women and children who suddenly broke out of the NFZ. The floodgates opened after SLA troop took control of a causeway over a lagoon leading to the NFZ from the west. But even as thousands of refugees ran to cross the shallow lagoon, they came under attack – according to the military — from the cornered LTTE cadres left behind.
Three women suicide bombers exploded themselves in the middle of screaming civilians who had jumped into the lagoon to dodge gun fire. The death count of 17 was likely to rise.