Sri Lanka battles Tiger remnants
International concern is growing over the fate of civilians in northern Sri Lanka as fighting continues despite reports of a Tamil Tiger ceasefire.
Sri Lanka’s government said troops were engaged in “final brushing up” hours after a website linked to the rebels said the Tigers were laying down arms.
EU ministers are expected to call on Monday for an independent inquiry into claims civilians have been targeted.
Both sides say the other has killed civilians in the closed off war zone.
The inquiry calls come as the final act appears to be being played out in a long and bitter 26-year civil war which has left some 70,000 people dead.
Sri Lanka’s army says the last LTTE (Tamil Tiger) fighters have been penned in a 1.5 square kilometre patch of jungle.
On Sunday the Tigers chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, said in a statement on the Tamilnet website: “This battle has reached its bitter end.”
A later statement appeared to modify the rebel position, saying the LTTE was “prepared to silence its guns if that is what needed by the international community to save the life and dignity of the Tamil people”.
The country’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already claimed victory, declaring on Saturday that Sri Lanka had been made free from “barbaric acts”.
In Brussels the EU issued a draft statement ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday, expressing a sense of outrage at the reports of civilian casualties on both sides.
The statement said the EU was appalled both at the high numbers of casualties and at the use of heavy weapons in the conflict.
1976 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam form in the north-east
1987 India deploys peace-keepers to Tamil areas but they leave in 1990
1993 President Premadasa killed by Tiger bomb
2001 Attack on airport destroys half Sri Lankan Airlines fleet
2002 Government and rebels agree ceasefire
2005 Mahinda Rajapakse becomes president
2006 Heavy fighting resumes
2009 Tigers call for ceasefire after army takes main rebel strongholds, confines Tigers to small coastal enclave
The EU is pushing for the UN Human Rights Council to convene a special session on Sri Lanka, just as it has in the past done for Burma, Darfur and the Palestinian territories, reports the BBC’s Oana Lungescu, in Brussels.
A pledge of aid came from the UK, which offered £5m ($7.5m) to help avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
“It is essential that we get food, medicines and shelter in as soon as possible to save lives, and thereafter that we help people to return to their homes as soon as they safely can,” said Hillary Benn, the UK’s international development secretary.
Diplomats say the EU has limited leverage, our correspondent notes, although it could remove preferential trade access worth $150m (£100m) if the country is found to be in breach of international human rights obligations.
Reports differ on the numbers of civilians caught up in the last battles, with the government saying that all those who had been trapped in Sri Lanka’s northern war zone had escaped.
The rebel spokesman, though, said more than 25,000 were injured and in need of attention.
The government said it did not respond to statements released on Tamilnet, and asserted that 50,000 Tamil civilians had left the war zone in recent days.
The UN has told the BBC the army figures reinforced its view that Sri Lanka’s authorities were ill-prepared for the huge influx of internally displaced people.
Refugee camps inland are already badly strained accommodating the huge numbers of those who have fled the conflict.
Leader at large?
The fighting is drawing to a close without any official word on the fate of the Tamil Tigers’ leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
There have been unconfirmed reports that the Tigers’ leader has been killed
Some reports have suggested he has died, but – as with all information from the war zone – there has been no confirmation.
The army had suspected that Prabhakaran, who formed the Tigers in 1976, would fulfil his long-held pledge to take his own life rather than face capture.
Reports suggested some of the last remaining Tigers launched themselves in suicide attacks at government troops, but there was no word on whether Prabhakaran was among them.
President Rajapaksa is expected to give a nationally televised news conference in parliament on Tuesday, when reports suggest he may officially declare the war over.
More than 70,000 people have died in the bitter war for a Tamil homeland.