LTTE planning mass suicide: Lankan officials

Colombo: Sri Lankan troops today captured the last strip of beach held by the Tamil Tigers, leaving the rebels completely surrounded and allegedly planning to commit “mass suicide.” Defence officials said the massive offensive against the separatist army would be over “very soon,” putting the entire island under government control for the first time in decades.

The Tigers are “are preparing for a mass suicide after being effectively cut-off of escape routes, both land and sea, and now encircled in a mere 3.5 square kilometres of land,” the defence ministry said.

It said their “only way out is to surrender to the security forces or to be crushed in the military advance,” and added that it believed veteran rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, 53, was still holed up in the area.

“The fighting has come to the last stage of defeating terrorism. We expect the good news of ending the fighting very soon,” defence spokesman Lakshman Hulugalle told AFP.

Government forces have kept up their blistering assault despite international calls for a ceasefire to save the lives of thousands of trapped civilians.

In the latest appeal to Sri Lankan authorities, European Union foreign ministers urged that “the fighting must stop now” and said they were “appalled by continuing reports of high numbers of civilian casualties.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, was heading to the island in a fresh effort to stop the carnage, and was expected to reach Colombo late on Saturday — by which time the battle is likely to be all but over.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only neutral organisation working in the northeast, said earlier in the week

that its staff were “witnessing an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe.” The UN’s human rights office has said an independent

probe into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka was vital. The island’s government, however, has barred diplomats, independent journalists and most aid workers from the conflict area.

But government troops pressed today, with two divisions that have been advancing along the coastline from the south and

north linking up and denying the rebels a chance of escaping by boat.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is currently visiting Jordan, said he expects to capture the last remaining patch of land from the Tigers by Sunday morning.