Sri Lanka's military says its soldiers are using only small arms fire as they close in on the leadership of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. With predictions that the defeat of the rebels is just days away, army officials say the LTTE commanders have a grim choice: surrender or die.

Military officials say they want to ensure "zero casualties to civilians" as they take on the remaining few hundred rebels on the northeastern coast. But the effort is being complicated by Tamil Tigers shedding their uniforms and blending in with the tens of thousands of trapped civilians in a government-declared safe zone.

The military's top target is LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Army Brigadier Udaya Nanyakkara tells VOA News the founder of the guerilla movement is cornered in a five kilometer narrow strip of territory the LTTE still controls between the sea and a lagoon.

"According to our intelligence Prabhakaran is still there in this piece of land," he said. "We have taken necessary steps to prevent him escaping from that area."

That, the military says, leaves the rebel commander with only one way to survive - an option he has reportedly ruled out: surrender.

"So if he does not want to surrender as his spokesman has said he will have to swallow his cyanide capsule if he is willing to die like that," he said. "Or to surrender to the army or he will get killed by the army."

A rebel spokesman, quoted by international news agencies, says Prabhakaran is still in the war zone, leading the fight.

The Navy says it destroyed six LTTE boats, killing 25 rebels. Meanwhile, Tamil web sites report the sinking of a naval water-jet gun boat and an Israeli-built high speed attack craft.
There is no way to confirm details of the maritime clashes as independent observers rarely - and then only briefly - gain access to the area. 

The Tamil Tigers, branded a terrorist organization by numerous countries, have waged a 25-year campaign for a separate ethnic Tamil homeland.

Although they are facing imminent defeat on the conventional battlefield, the rebels have scored a small "virtual" victory. Military officials acknowledge the Army's web site was hacked early Friday.

Officials blame the "ruthless Tigers and their proxies" for a "technical assassination" of the Army internet site. The hackers were able to place on the Army's home page claims about and graphic photographs of civilian casualties blamed on the military. Authorities took the site off line following the cyber attack.