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Sri Lankan President Says Tamil Tiger Rebels Almost Defeated


Asia's longest-running war appears to be coming to an end. That is the assessment of Sri Lanka's president, who spoke Wednesday at a rally celebrating 61 years of independence - nearly half of it marred by fighting.

It was a day of muted celebration in Sri Lanka's sun-drenched south, while fighting persists in the country's north - part of a 25-year civil war between Sri Lanka's Sinhalese-dominated government and a rebel group made up of minority ethnic Tamils.

Amid heavy security in the capital, Sri Lanka celebrated 61 years of independence with military parades and fly-overs of fighter jets.

The country's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, wearing a white robe with a maroon scarf, said government forces are on the verge of victory.

Conflict almost over

He says Sri Lanka is on the verge of what he calls "destroying terrorism." He predicts the conflict will end "within days."

Heavy fighting was reported in parts of the northeast, as government troops close in on the last-remaining holdouts of ethnic Tamil rebels, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The reports cannot be independently verified because Sri Lanka's government has barred reporters from entering conflict areas.

The United Nations says recent fighting has taken a bloody toll on the region's civilian population, killing at least 52 civilians and wounding at least 80 others, in the past two days. Aid agencies say about 250,000 people are trapped in the fighting. Sri Lanka's government says that figure is exaggerated.

Rebels blamed for attack on hospital

Aid groups operating in the area said at least 14 people have been killed during repeated attacks on a hospital in rebel-held territory. Sri Lankan forces had been criticized for bombing the hospital. But Sri Lankan military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara blames LTTE fighters for the attacks.

"We know the exact location of that hospital," the spokesman said. "Definitely, the LTTE has fired at that location. And, this [is] kind of arranged [by the LTTL], where they have videoed everything and fired at the location and given it to media. This is the kind of terrorist organization we are fighting with."

The United States, the European Union and other countries have urged the LTTE to lay down its weapons and called for a cease-fire from the Sri Lankan government to allow civilians to flee the war zone. But Sri Lankan forces have vowed to fight on.

Since the war began in 1983, about 70,000 people have been killed, many of them civilians.

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