B. Muralidhar Reddy

Tigers are now confined to approximately 1.5 sq km

FROM INSIDE WAR ZONE: At least 10,000 civilians trapped in and around the New Safety Zone (NSZ) under the occupation of the LTTE walked to freedom on Friday as the military after opening an escape route pushed the Tigers to an enclave of approximately 1.5 sq km along the Mullaithivu coast.

What began as a trickle on Wednesday night turned into a flood as civilians rushed into the government-controlled territory. The military is hopeful of overwhelming the remaining cadre and leaders of the Tigers in 24 to 36 hours and pave way for escape of the remaining civilians stranded in the war zone.

A firm indication that the final hours of the last of the LTTE leaders and cadre are being played out came from President Mahinda Rajapaksa, currently on an official tour of Jordan. In a statement issued from there, Mr. Rajapaksa declared that the military operations to rescue all the civilians held hostage by the Tigers would be over in 48 hours.

It was indeed a pathetic sight to see mothers holding their babies running towards the military checkpoints. In a brief interaction before boarding the government buses that took them to Omanthai checkpoint, a group of civilians told The Hindu that their life in the last two months was miserable.

“My 45-day-old child was born inside a bunker. After he has come out of my womb, these are his first glimpses into the big bad world,” said a mother who had covered the naked body of the child with a white towel to protect him from the blistering sun.

Grim tales

The tales of mothers with little older children were even grim. “My son-in-law managed to buy a tin of lactogene for a price of Sri Lanka Rs. 3,000 as my two-year-old grand child had to go without milk for nearly two months. We have been living in the bunkers for weeks with shells and gunfire exploding all around us. Late last night we decided to crawl our way out without being detected by the Tigers,” said a grandfather who was successful in coming out with his entire family.

That the fate of the family members of some prominent Tiger leaders was no better became evident when the Navy sea units identified the family members of Sea Tiger wing leader Soosai in the morning when they rescued a boat consisting of 11 civilians.

The sailors found five members of Soosai’s family, including his wife, son, daughter, sister-in-law and her son. The military said a large sum of money had been found in their possession.

Vijay Nambiar, Chief of Staff of the U.N. Secretary-General, is expected to arrive here on Saturday for a first-hand assessment of the ground situation and discuss with the authorities on how the U.N. could help the government cope with the humanitarian needs of an estimated 2.15 lakh displaced. The number could rise to 2.5 lakh once all civilians are rescued.