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Sri Lankan President Vows No Cease-fire as Victory Nears

Sri Lanka's President is adamant there will be no pause in the fighting on the verge of a total battlefield victory over the rebel Tamil Tigers that would end a quarter century civil war.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa says victory is near for troops who have cornered the remaining Tamil rebels on the northeastern coast.

In a speech to diplomats in the capital, the president again rejected international calls for a cease-fire to allow civilians to escape. Mr. Rajapaksa says a halt to the fighting at this late stage would be useless as the rebels only understand the "language of terror."

He vows the Army will rescue the civilians, who the government says are human shields being held by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The President promises the defeat of the LTTE will return democracy to the Tamil-dominated north. He notes 200,000 Tamils have been able to escape from the rebels and he credits the armed forces for that.

Authorities say more Tamils - estimated at between 50,000 and 100,000 by the United Nations - are being held as human shields by the rebels.

The military says only 43 civilians have managed to escape since early Wednesday, with heavy combat reported in the last strip of land controlled by the rebels.

Defense officials say soldiers have over-run what they believe is the last earthen fortification of the LTTE. Commanders say that should ease the capture of the remaining sliver of territory held by the rebels.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara tells VOA News that Army troops, using only small arms, have had to advance slowly in the past two weeks because the rebels have placed anti-personnel mines and deployed exploding vehicles and suicide bombers.

"They came and exploded themselves, but then we could identify them before they got closer to our troops," said Udaya Nanayakkara. "Therefore we could minimize our damage and they lost eight suicide cadres."

The Army says several of its soldiers were wounded in the latest action.

The military and police say they are taking added security precautions as the country begins celebrating (Friday) the Vesak Buddhist holiday.

Authorities tell VOA News they are concerned there may be sleeper cells of suicide bombers intent on disrupting the festival to demonstrate the Tamil Tigers still have the ability to strike outside the war zone.

The LTTE, considered a terrorist organization by numerous countries, wants to split the island nation that is dominated by the Sinhalese majority and establish a Tamil ethnic homeland.