Sri Lankan president declares civil war victory
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said Saturday that the country's military has defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels after 25 years of civil war.
"My government, with the total commitment of our armed forces, has in an unprecedented humanitarian operation finally defeated the LTTE militarily," he said referring to the rebels by an acronym of their formal name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Rajapaksa made the announcement to an international audience in Jordan, where he is attending a conference.
"I will be going back to a country that has been totally freed from the barbaric acts of the LTTE," he said in a speech.
The announcement came not long after news broke that the Sri Lankan military had taken control of the country's northeastern coastline and isolated the rebel Tigers to a tiny sliver of land.
Early Saturday, the military pushed the rebels to a 3.1 square kilometre stretch of beach between a lagoon and the ocean, which troops had surrounded on land and sea.
Despite Rajapaksa's announcement, the Sri Lankan military reported that fighting continued in the war zone.
Explosions could be heard from the region as rebels detonated their ammunition, military spokesperson Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
Intense shelling had marked war's final days, sending thousands of civilians fleeing the area.
More than 23,000 people have fled the area since Thursday, Nanayakkara said.
At one time, the rebels had ruled over a considerable portion of land in the north and had established a navy and a lucrative smuggling ring.
While troops are likely still pursuing Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his senior lieutenants, it is unclear if they have remained on the coast for a last stand against the army or if they have fled overseas.
Prabhakaran is famously reclusive and has been on the run from Sri Lankan authorities for years.
Meanwhile, "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe" is growing in the region, according to the Red Cross.
Tens of thousands of civilians were still trapped in the rebel-controlled war zone and faced round-the-clock artillery bombardments from both the military and rebel soldiers.
At least 7,000 civilians were killed and more than 16,000 wounded between Jan. 20 and May 7, according to the UN.
Local doctors say that in the last week alone, heavy shelling has killed at least 1,000 civilians.
Both the rebels and the military deny they have fired heavy weapons in the war zone.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent his chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, to Sri Lanka on Saturday to meet with government officials and encourage peace talks between both sides.
However, the government has repeatedly rebuffed such calls from the international community.
On Thursday night, Rajapaksa said the war would be over within 48 hours and vowed to free civilians who have been trapped amid the fighting.
With files from The Associated Press