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Tamil Tigers Admit Defeat After Battle Reaches 'Bitter End'

Jeremy Page

An estimated 50,000 civiilans have fled in the past few days. (Sri Lankan Government/Reuters)

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

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

"No force can prevent the attainment of justice for our people," said Mr

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.

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