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Tamil Tigers admit defeat as Sri Lanka army moves in

May 17, 2009

a stunning collapse of one of the most world’s most sophisticated and prolific insurgency/terrorist movements.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels admitted defeat today after a final flurry of suicide attacks on the government forces which have surrounded them in a tiny patch of coconut grove on the northeastern coast.

The Tigers’ surrender -– after 26 years of fighting for an ethnic Tamil homeland — was announced in a statement by Selvarasa Pathmanathan, their chief of international relations, on the pro-rebel Tamilnet web site.

“This battle has reached its bitter end,” said Mr Pathmanathan, who is believed to be in hiding outside Sri Lanka. “We remain with one last choice – to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people. We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer.”

The surrender came after the army announced that it had freed all of the 50,000 civilians that the UN estimated were trapped with the Tigers in a pocket of land smaller than London’s Hyde Park.

Government forces had encircled the rebels and cut them off from the sea yesterday, taking control of the entire island’s coast for the first time since the Tigers launched their armed struggle in 1983.

There was no immediate word from either side on the fate of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the elusive founder and leader of the Tigers, who the army and the rebels say has been leading his forces on the frontline. Mr Prabhakaran and his fighters have always vowed to fight to the death, and all carry cyanide capsules around their necks to take in the event of capture.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President, who returned to Sri Lanka after a trip to Jordan this morning, had already declared victory over the Tigers yesterday, sparking celebrations on the streets of Colombo, the capital.

Fighting raged on this morning despite his announcement, with several Tigers blowing themselves up in suicide attacks on Fgovernment forces, according to Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman.

“They were actually defeated some time ago, but they have formally accepted defeat only now,” he said.

“They fought for an Eelam (separate state) that they could never win. It was only a waste of lives. They have caused massive death and destruction over the years. Finally they themselves have realised that it is all over,” he said.

He added that troops had killed at least 70 rebels masquerading as civilians trying to flee in six boats via a lagoon overnight.

The Tigers have now been defeated as a conventional military force, and lost all their territory, which once covered as much as a third of Sri Lanka, as well as many of their leaders.

However, they have vowed to continue their struggle underground, using sleeper cells around Sri Lanka and a vast network in the 73 million strong Tamil diaspora.

“No force can prevent the attainment of justice for our people,” said Mr Pathmanathan.

He also appealed for help from the international community, which had appealed repeatedly for a ceasefire to allow civilians to escape the frontline.

The Red Cross — the only international aid agency allowed access to the frontline — suspended its operations last week because of the intensity of the fighting, warning of an “unimagineable humanitarian catastrophe”.

However, the government rejected all those appeals, saying a ceasefire would only allow the Tigers to regroup and re-arm, and accusing Western governments — especially Britain, the former colonial power — of hypocrisy.

The UN and Britain have now called for a war crimes investigation, and the United States has said it is blocking Sri Lanka’s application for a $1.9 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund because of its conduct of the war.

History of violence

1972 Velupillai Prabhakaran founds the Tamil New Tigers, later to become the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), to fight for a separate Tamil state in reaction to alleged widespread anti-Tamil discrimination

1983 A Tamil Tiger attack in northern Sri Lanka kills 13 soldiers, triggering anti-Tamil riots in the capital, Colombo, in which hundreds die. This, in effect, marks the start of the civil war

1987 India brokers truce and sends troops to enforce it but the Tigers renege and begin three years of fighting in which 1,000 Indian soldiers are killed. In 1990 India withdraws, leaving the Tigers in control of Jaffna, in the north

1991 A female suicide bomber, believed to have been sent by the Tamil Tigers, kills Rajiv Gandhi, the former Indian Prime Minister, along with 14 others at a rally in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. A year later the LTTE is outlawed in India

1993 A suspected Tiger suicide bomber kills Ranasinghe Premadasa, the Sri Lankan President, at a rally. The following year Chandrika Kumaratunga comes to power and starts peace talks but heavy fighting continues over the next six years

2002 Norway negotiates a ceasefire and peace talks begin. The Government lifts its ban on the Tigers and the rebels drop demands for an independent state

2004 Colonel Karuna, eastern commander of the Tigers, defects to the Government

2005 State of emergency declared after Lakshman Kadirgamar, the Foreign Minister, is killed by a suspected Tiger assassin in August. In November Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister, wins presidential elections on a vow to reject demands for Tamil autonomy. Most Tamils in Tiger-controlled areas do not vote, helping him to win. New peace talks fail in Geneva

2007-09 Government forces begin to drive the Tigers from eastern Sri Lanka. A year later they launch an offensive. In 2009 they seize the Tiger’s de facto capital, Kilinochchi Source: Times archive

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