Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers admit defeat

The militant group's chief of international relations announced Sunday that the war had reached its "bitter end."

By , Correspondent

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    Sri Lankans waved their national flag Sunday as they celebrated what the government says is the defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels.
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Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers admitted defeat Sunday as the militant group's chief of international relations announced on the Tamilnet website that the "battle has reached its bitter end."

"We remain with one last choice – to remove the last weak excuse of the enemy for killing our people," wrote Selvarasa Pathmanathan in the statement. "We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer."

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Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse already declared final victory Saturday in his country's 25-year civil war against the Tamil Tigers, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Tigers, formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting for an independent Tamil state in northern Sri Lanka since 1983. They complain of discrimination and ill treatment at the hands of the island's Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

Mr. Rajapakse was greeted on his return home by supporters waving flags and setting off firecrackers.

According to The Times of London, on Sunday night, the Sri Lankan military killed 70 of the remaining fighters from the Tigers who were holding tens of thousands of civilian hostages in a shrinking patch of jungle territory.

The government claims to have freed all hostages, which AFP reports number between 20,000 and 50,000.

According to the Associated Press, the Tigers have been confined to a 1.2 square mile patch of jungle after the government gained control of the island's entire coastline "for the first time in nearly a quarter century," cutting off a possible sea escape for LTTE leaders. The remaining Tiger territory is being heavily shelled.

Despite Rajapakse's claims of victory, serious concerns remain about the humanitarian costs of the fighting as well as the whereabouts and possible future plans of the insurgency's leaders, whose location is unknown.

The International Committee of the Red Cross called the scene of the weekend fighting "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe," according to The Times, which says that 7,000 civilians have died since late January.

While a conventional military defeat would be a serious setback to the Tamil Tigers, it might not spell the end of the insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives, reports The New York Times. In the past, LTTE leaders have vowed to continue their battle for an independent state as a guerrilla war should they lose on the battlefield.

The Press Trust of India cites "unconfirmed reports" that as many as 300 LTTE fighters committed mass suicide "after troops zeroed in on them."

Reuters notes that the Tigers were "founded on a culture of suicide before surrender." It also reports that there are suspicions that Tamil leader Prabhakaran may have committed suicide, it says, "after a massive explosion was heard inside a bunker."

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