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2 Rebel Leaders Surrender in Sri Lanka as Government Offensive Continues

In Sri Lanka, authorities say two rebels leaders have surrendered as the army intensifies an offensive to eliminate the Tamil Tiger rebels. The government says nearly 100,000 civilians have fled the shrinking war zone, but concerns are running high for the civilian population that remains in the area. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council meets Wednesday to discuss Sri Lanka, as the army pushes deeper into rebel territory and thousands of civilians try to escape.

The army says the two Tamil Tiger leaders who surrendered Wednesday were their chief spokesman, known as Daya Master, and a translator for the political wing of the rebels.

Rebels retreating

The surrenders were announced as the army said troops have gone deeper into the narrow strip of land in the northeast left in rebel hands.

The army says the land under the control of the rebels has shrunk to eight square kilometers.

Minister Keheliya Rambukwella is Defense Affairs Spokesman. He told VOA the government believes top rebel leaders, including Tamil Tiger chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran are in the area.

"We are cornering Prabhakaran and his terror group to a very, very, very limited area," Rambukwella said. "We believe that he is in the area."

Concern about civilians' safety

The fighting in the northeast has become a focus of international concern because of the presence of tens of thousands of civilians in the area. Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday that hundreds of dead and wounded civilians have been brought out of front-line areas.

The army says about 100,000 people have fled since Monday when troops opened an exit route out of the war zone. The government had earlier estimated that the number of people in the war zone is about 70,000. Aid agencies had said the number was much higher.

Aid agencies have warned that the civilians still trapped with the rebels are getting caught in the crossfire between the two sides.

The rebels are accused of using the civilian population as a buffer between them and the troops. The government has been blamed for shelling the area despite the presence of civilians.

Army denies putting civilians in harms way

The government denies the charge, and says troops are rescuing and not harming civilians. Minister Rambukwella says the army is only using light weapons in its campaign to take out the rebels.

"We are more concerned than anybody else, in fact that is why our soldiers are not using any heavy artillery, any heavy guns, rather they have been subject to really a hazardous situation because their prime objective is to rescue the civilians," Rambukwella said.

Minister Rambukwella says the government is optimistic that the military campaign to eliminate the rebels will be over in days.