Sri Lanka has ruled out an amnesty for the Tamil Tiger leader as troops move in for a final offensive against the cornered rebels – despite a global outcry over the plight of civilians trapped in the war zone.
President Mahinda Rajapakse said Velupillai Prabhakaran, whose Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are fighting to prevent complete defeat after being pushed into a narrow stretch of coastal jungle in the northeast of the island, would not be pardoned.
“The LTTE leader has spurned the possibility of pardon by us,” the president\’s office quoted him as saying. “He must now face the consequences of his acts.”
Two other senior Tiger officials surrendered to government forces on Wednesday as the military reported that more than 100,000 civilians had escaped from rebel-held territory and sought shelter with troops since Monday.
One of those who turned themselves in was the Tigers\’ chief spokesman Velayudam Dayanidi, better known as Daya Master.
Calls for a ceasefire
Another official, who once served as an aide to the late head of the Tigers\’ political wing, SP Thamilselvan, also surrendered.
The crisis has sparked international calls for a ceasefire amid growing concern for civilians trapped in the war zone.
Video footage by state television showed a young pregnant woman delivering a baby while in a bus that was taking her and other displaced civilians away from the war zone on Wednesday.
Men and women carrying infants and the sick were seen wading through waist-deep water to get to safety while thousands waited for food.
“Our operations to rescue civilians are continuing,” government defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters, describing the Tigers as a spent force with just 12 square kilometres of land left.
\’Fighting a losing battle\’
“They are fighting a losing battle,” he said, adding the government also “strongly believes” that Prabhakaran, 54, was still in the area.
The Tigers, who have been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1972, have acknowledged losing ground and have accused the government of killing 1,000 civilians in recent days.
The military said fleeing non-combatants were fired on by the rebels who allegedly kept villagers as human shields.
The rival claims are hard to verify as independent reporters are not allowed near the conflict zone but aid agencies have painted a grim picture.
“The situation is nothing short of catastrophic,” said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, operations director for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The UN Security Council was to meet later on Wednesday to discuss the conflict, French ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert told reporters at the United Nations.
UN security council meeting
“At our request, there will be a meeting this afternoon of the security council. It will be an informal meeting,” he said.
“I have no doubt that there will be a common expression of very serious preoccupation and of our common will for the fighting to stop, for a truce, for a ceasefire, for whatever is needed for the civilians to leave the area.”
One hospital in northern Vavuniya was “saturated” with patients coming from the conflict area, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) spokeswoman Olivia Blanchard said.
“Around 1,700 patients have arrived to the hospital which only has 400 beds,” said Blanchard, who spoke by phone with medical staff earlier in the day.
The hospital in the government-controlled area had received more than 400 new patients in the past two days.
“The buses are still coming and they\’re actually unloading dead bodies at times as some wounded people died on the way,” said Karen Stewart, an MSF mental health officer working in Vavuniya, according to a statement from the agency.
In Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress: “This is such a terrible humanitarian tragedy.
“We have been pressing the Sri Lankan government for a halt in the fighting so that we could secure a safe passage for as many of the trapped civilians as possible.”
The LTTE were once considered one of the world\’s most efficient guerrilla outfits, controlling over a third of Sri Lanka\’s territory and running a de facto mini-state.
But a Norwegian-brokered truce between Colombo and the Tigers began falling apart in December 2005, and fighting since then has seen the progressive collapse of the rebel army.