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Prabakaran taking cover among civilians: army chief

B. Muralidhar Reddy

He is in the no-fire zone and cannot escape over the land route: Sarath Fonseka

COLOMBO: As the tide of civilians fleeing the eight sq. km. area within the no-fire zone (NFZ) under the control of the LTTE ebbed, Sri Lankan Army chief Sarath Fonseka on Thursday asserted that the Tiger chief Velupillai Prabakaran continued to take shelter behind the remaining estimated 15,000-20,000 trapped civilians.

“Prabakaran is in the south of the NFZ, taking cover among the civilians. My troops, the special forces, commandos and infantrymen are advancing towards the area to rescue the rest of the civilians. Prabakaran can’t escape over the land route as my troops are effectively manning the defence lines. Prabakaran’s only escape route is by sea,” the Army chief told Asian Tribune, a news portal.

Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama told the diplomatic corps at a special briefing here that the LTTE had been comprehensively defeated and it was a matter of time before the forces rescued the civilians still held hostage by the Tigers.

Lt. Gen. Fonseka said the world’s largest civilian hostage rescue operation was nearing completion.

Mr. Bogollagama later told a news conference that the government’s assessment of the number of civilians in the NFZ was based on its own inputs and the statement made to the military by the LTTE media wing in-charge Daya Master, who surrendered on Wednesday.

Both the Minister and the Army chief insisted that the forces had not killed any civilian during the rescue operations. Mr. Bogollagama contested the statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “How can any one argue that those who got killed in the rescue operations are civilians and not the Tiger cadres,” he asked.

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