Two top LTTE leaders surrender; 95,000 escape war zone
Two key Tamil Tiger officials surrendered Wednesday as Sri Lankan troops pressed a final offensive against the rebels despite an international outcry over the fate of trapped civilians.
Among the top rebels who turned themselves in was the Tigers' main mouthpiece to the outside world, their chief spokesman Velayudam Dayanidi, better known as Daya Master.
Another official, who was an aide to the late head of the Tigers' political wing, S.P. Thamilselvan, also surrendered.
The government's defence spokesman said more than 80,000 people had fled the shrinking patch of territory still controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), saying troops were "rescuing" and not harming civilians caught up in the war.
"Our operations to rescue civilians is continuing," Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters, describing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a spent force with just 12 square kilometres (five square miles) of land left.
"The LTTE has lost all its military capabilities. They are fighting a losing battle," he said, adding the government also "strongly believes" that Tamil Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran, 54, was still in the area.
The defence ministry gave Prabhakaran and his fighters until Tuesday to surrender, but the rebels ignored the deadline and have continued to fight.
The LTTE, who have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1972, has acknowledged losing ground. But the group has accused the government of killing 1,000 civilians in recent days.
The military insists it has aided the escape of 81,420 men, women and children this week. It said those fleeing were fired on by the rebels, who are alleged to have kept villagers to use as human shields.
The rival claims are hard to verify as independent reporters are not allowed near the conflict zone, but aid agencies have painted a grim picture.
"The situation is nothing short of catastrophic," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, operations director for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"What we are seeing is intense fighting in a very small area overcrowded with civilians who have fled there," he said.
He estimated there could be tens of thousands more people still inside rebel-held territory, while facilities for those who had reached relative safety were overstretched.
The United States and other nations have urged both Sri Lankan troops and Tiger rebels not to fire indiscriminately, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked that UN staff be allowed to enter the area for relief operations.
"The casualties are certainly in the thousands and have been fairly consistently high running throughout the last couple of months, as the patch of (LTTE) territory has narrowed and really diminished," said Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Colombo.
The apparent endgame in Sri Lanka has triggered protests around the world, with up to 30,000 Tamil demonstrators clogging the Canadian capital Ottawa to press for mediation.
Similar rallies have been held in London and Paris.
The LTTE were once considered as one of the world's most efficient guerrilla outfits, lording over a third of Sri Lanka's territory and running a de facto mini-state.
A Norwegian-brokered truce between the government and the rebels began falling apart in December 2005, and fighting since then has seen the progressive collapse of the rebel army.Last month the UN's human rights chief said both sides in the conflict may be guilty of war crimes.
Pfizer Inc. Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said Bourla tested positive for Covid-19 and is receiving Paxlovid, the treatment made by his company. Bourla said he's feeling well although experiencing very mild symptoms, according to a statement Monday. Bourla said he is “isolating in place as well as following all public health precautions” and that he's confident of a speedy recovery. The New York-based drugmaker declined to comment beyond Bourla's statement.
China has carried out fresh military drills near self-governed Taiwan in response to the ongoing visit of US lawmakers to the island as high tension, sparked earlier this month by the visit of US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to Taipei, continues in the Taiwan Strait. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and says official ties between the island and another country is a violation of the mainland's sovereignty.
Health authorities in the financial hub said that they imposed “temporary control measures” at the store, after they found out that a close contact of a 6-year-old boy with an asymptomatic Covid infection had been there. They didn’t say when the close contact was in the store.
Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to six more years in prison on Monday in a judgment that could further anger supporters of the 77-year-old Nobel peace prize laureate. It's the fourth round of criminal verdicts against Suu Kyi since the military seized power in a 2021 coup and brings her total jail term to 17 years, extinguishing any chance of her staging a political comeback while the junta remain in power.
The Taliban marked a year in power on Monday with small-scale celebrations by the group's fighters as Afghanistan struggles with rising poverty, drought, malnutrition and fading hope among women that they will have a decisive role in the country's future. "This day is the day of the victory of truth over falsehood and the day of salvation and freedom of the Afghan nation," said Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid in a statement.