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Terrorism & Security

Sri Lanka: Is this the 'endgame' for the conflict with Tamil Tigers?

The government says the war is in its last stages, as thousands of civilians remain trapped in the conflict zone.

By / April 22, 2009

Some of the 80,000 displaced civilians arrive at a beach after fleeing fighting between Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, on Tuesday, near the war zone in Putumattalan, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Army/AP

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After 26 years of fighting, Asia's longest-running conflict in Sri Lanka has reached what one US official called a "decisive point." Sri Lankan forces have cornered the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a 6.5-square-mile area on the northern tip of the island nation. The area is the LTTE forces' last major defensive position.

The separatist group had refused calls from the United Nations and several Western governments to release tens of thousands of civilians from their position. LTTE was believed to be holding them as human shields, but three days ago government forces broke through a barrier around the position, allowing more than 80,000 civilians to flee the area, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur, a German news agency.

Outgunned and unable to resupply, the Sri Lankan government says it may be entering into an "endgame" with the LTTE. The group has refused to surrender, although the Sri Lankan Army's website claimed Wedneseday that two top rebels had surrendered, reports the BBC. Government forces still face complications, as despite the mass exodus of refugees over the last three days, thousands remain trapped in the war-torn region, reports the Press Trust of India.

Satellite imagery of the embattled zone released for the first time showed that tens of thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils were squeezed into the last small strip of land controlled by the Tamil Tigers.
The imagery released by the US State Department shows about 25,000 tents packed into a coastal strip about 18 sq km, prompting US and Red Cross officials to ask Colombo for a pause to enable women and children escape the conflict zone.

As government forces move into what they are calling their "final assault" on the rebels, aid agencies and members of the LTTE have accused them of targeting civilians, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corp. In the past week, aid agencies and rebel leaders say the government assault has led to the death of "hundreds, if not thousands of causalities." While the country's High Commissioner to Australia charges that the military has never knowingly targeted civilians, he concedes that his forces must act with caution to avoid creating sympathy for the rebel group that could result in more attacks even after the fall of the strong hold.

But the High Commissioner has also conceded that removing Tamil Tigers from their strongholds might end up causing an surge in suicide bombings and other terrorism-related tactics.
Many long-time observers of Sri Lanka's troubled history with the Tamil Tigers believe the Government is very close to its military objective. But the forceful tactics of the army, air force, and the navy come with an increasing human cost.
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