Sri Lanka's advance against Tamil Tiger
rebels, now in its final stages, has been
slowed considerably by the presence of
civilians in the war zone, Defence Secretary
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said.
An estimated 70,000 civilians are inside the
shrinking territory in the coastal area of
Mullaittivu, into which the rebels have been
penned after losing their mini-state, he has
"The military is taking more casualties now
because they can no longer soften the target
using artillery and air attacks," he told
AFP Tuesday in an interview Tuesday.
The Defence Secretary said troops were on
the verge of victory after 37 years of
fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE), who have been struggling for a
separate Tamil state within Sri Lanka where
the Sinhalese are in the majority.
The plight of non-combatants has sparked
UN-led calls for a truce to allow civilians
to leave. The International Red Cross warned
earlier this month a humanitarian
catastrophe was unfolding in the region.
But Minister said a ceasefire was
unnecessary as troops were not attacking a
coastal stretch designated a no-fire zone in
order to allow civilians safe passage.
"There is no meaning to (having) a ceasefire
now," said Rajapaksa.
Government officials say some 35,000
civilians have crossed the front lines
despite the rebels firing on fleeing men,
women and children. The UN and other
governments have also accused the Tigers of
attacking escaping, AFP said.
But the Tigers have strongly denied the
allegations and say the civilians are
remaining in the territory on their own
Rajapaksa said the length of the hostilities
depended "on how quickly the Tigers release
"If there are no civilians in that area,
that will also mean the end of the LTTE," he
said, accusing the rebels of using the
civilians "as a human shield." "They also
take part of the food and medicines sent for
the civilians. Without civilians they have
no supply line," he said.
Rajapaksa, a retired army colonel and main
figure spearheading the campaign, said the
first stage of military operations would end
after all rebel territory was seized.
"I would not say we have defeated the Tigers
completely until we have completed all three
phases of our operation," he said, adding
the next would be to mop up remaining
resistance and seize all terrorist weaponry.
The final phase would be to ensure
"We're not going to leave any room for them
to come back," he said.