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    Sri Lanka Rebels Concede Defeat

    Sri Lanka's rebels have announced they would be laying down their guns to prevent what they call further unnecessary slaughter of Tamil civilians by government troops.  The island nation's military says it has defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ending a long civil war, and has rescued nearly 200,000 trapped civilians. 

    Sri Lanka's government is congratulating itself on a job well done, defeating terrorism and rescuing all civilians from its clutches.

    The country's disaster relief and human rights minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe, spoke to reporters in the capital.

    "The military phase is over.  The LTTE has been militarily defeated.  Now the biggest hostage rescue operation in the world has come to a conclusion," Samarasinghe.  "The figure I have here is since 20th of April, 179,000 hostages have been rescued."

    But the Army reports the Tamil Tiger rebels as of Sunday evening still hold an 800-square-meter territory, were continuing to fire on troops and engage in suicide attacks on soldiers.  The military calls this a "mopping up operation" and expresses confidence the entire area will soon be cleared of all rebels.

    No official announcement has been made on what just about everyone in the island nation is wondering.  What is the fate of the LTTE founder and leader, Vellupillai Prabhakaran?

    Military officials say they have no conclusive information, but earlier predicted the group's top leaders would likely commit a mass suicide.

    Questions also remain about how many civilians, in recent days, died in the combat zone and who is responsible.

    The government and the LTTE traded accusations the other was deliberately targeting civilians.  Some in the international community are pushing for both sides to face inquiries of possible war crimes.

    British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also warned of "consequences" for Sri Lanka for not halting its offensive to allow humanitarian relief for the trapped Tamils whom the government here contends were "human shields" held by the rebels.

    VOA News asked Sri Lanka Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona for a reaction to that diplomatic threat.

    "I would like to see what these consequences are. I believe that it is a legal responsibility of any state to rescue hostages when confronted with such a situation," said Kohona. "The international community itself characterized what prevailed in the north as a hostage situation."

    The top aid of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is in Colombo for talks with government officials on the humanitarian situation in the combat zone.  U.N. officials here acknowledge he arrived too late to make much of a difference.

    U.N. spokesman Gordon Weiss tells VOA News the government must allow international agencies unhindered access to the camps set up for a quarter million displaced Tamils to ensure they are being properly sheltered and fed.

    "And, of course, there is a wide range of battlefield injuries amongst the civilian population both inside the camp, at the moment, and among those emerging from the zone," said Weiss.

    Although the final tally is yet to be known, the civil war, which began in 1983, has left at least 70,000 people dead.  The LTTE, a terrorist organization in the eyes of many countries, will apparently leave a legacy of failing to gain an ethnic homeland despite waging decades of guerilla warfare, repeated urban suicide attacks and waves of political assassinations.

      

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