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Sri Lanka's President says Tamil Rebels Days Away from Defeat


Sri Lanka says the territory controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels has now been reduced to a mere five square kilometers and that they are less than a week away from defeat. Meanwhile, the country's President is expressing frustration with claims the military is still using heavy weapons in the war zone, despite its pledge not to put trapped civilians in additional danger.

Sri Lanka's defense ministry says advances by its troops have further reduced the patch of land between a lagoon and the sea still controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Noting that the rebels now hold less than five square kilometers of territory, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a speech that the Tamil Tigers have only five or six days left to surrender before being defeated.

The president expressed frustration that foreign diplomats do not seem to believe Sri Lanka is living up to its pledge to stop using heavy weapons and bombing. Mr. Rajapaksa says he replied "definitely no" when visiting high-level envoys this week asked him whether such tactics are still being used by the military.

But Mr. Rajapaksa, speaking in the southern town of Embilipitiya, some 200 kilometers outside the capital, vowed that the military operation will not end until the rebels stop fighting and all civilians are rescued.

The president has faced strong international pressure to end the fighting in a zone where the United Nations estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 Tamil civilians are trapped with the rebels.

Sri Lanka says the Tamil Tigers are holding the civilians hostage and that a pause in the offensive would only benefit the remaining several hundred rebels still putting up a fight.

The president's remarks came as Japan's special representative, Yasushi Akashi, arrived to press Sri Lanka to give priority to the fate of the trapped civilians and allow increased access for international aid agencies to provide hands-on support for those who have already fled the combat zone. Similar appeals were made on Wednesday in person to the Mr. Rajapaksa by the British and French foreign ministers.

President Rajapaksa says his country will not bow to international pressure, contending that diplomats are being "misled by the propaganda of the LTTE terrorists."

The rebels have waged war, and carried out suicide attacks and assassinations for the past quarter century in an attempt to carve out an independent ethnic Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island nation, which is dominated by the Sinhalese majority.

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