Tamil Tigers admit defeat

COLOMBO: The Tamil Tigers have given up their fight against a Sri Lankan government offensive and "have decided to silence our guns," a statement carried by the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said Sunday.

"This battle has reached its bitter end," said the admission of defeat from the rebels' chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan.

"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 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting for an independent homeland on the ethnic Sinhalese-majority island since the 1970s.

"There is not a person who can doubt the LTTE's fearless and unending commitment to this cause with which we have been entrusted by our people. No force can prevent the attainment of justice for our people," Pathmanathan said.

"We willingly stand up with courage and silence our guns. We have no other option other than to continue our plea to the international community to save our people."

The statement came as the island's defence ministry said all civilians held by the Tamil Tigers had escaped the war zone, with the last few rebel fighters boxed into a 2.4-square-kilometre (one-square-mile) patch of jungle.

"They were actually defeated some time ago, but they have formally accepted defeat only now," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told AFP.

"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.