Tamil rebels surrender – but hunt for their leader goes on

Prabhakaran warned that he 'must now face the consequences of his actions'

The army in Sri Lanka said yesterday that two prominent members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had surrendered, as the military advanced on the shrinking patch of territory the rebels still hold on the island's north-east coast.

With the number of Tamil civilians fleeing the conflict zone surpassing 100,000 in three days, according to army estimates, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said the LTTE's supreme leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had lost any chance of being pardoned.

The men the military says have surrendered are Daya Master, a one-time schoolteacher who for years was the Tamil Tigers' voice to the English-speaking world, and a translator named George, who worked for the late head of their political wing.

"The two came out with civilians and surrendered to the army," said Sri Lanka's military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, "They were not trying to escape." Nor had they tried to commit suicide using cyanide vials around their neck as loyal followers of Mr Prabhakaran, the group's founder-leader, are famously schooled to do. The brigadier said there might be rehabilitation processes available to the two men, but it was for the government to decide.

Meanwhile President Rajapaksa said the reclusive Mr Prabhakaran had spurned the possibility of pardon and "must now face the consequences of his acts". The government believes it is within days of delivering a final blow to the LTTE and ending 25 years of civil war, which has pitted the Sinhalese-dominated army against the feared guerrilla group which calls itself the sole legitimate representative of the island's Tamil minority. Many observers point out, however, that whatever the successes of the current military campaign, ceasefires have failed in the past, and this is an island still plagued by a bitter ethnic divide which will eventually need a political solution.

The rebels have now been pushed back into a tiny, sweltering coastal pocket, into which the military says it has just made further, sweeping inroads. It is thought that perhaps 100,000 civilians remain cramped in makeshift shelters completely exposed to the crossfire of what the government believes is the endgame of Asia's longest running conflict. Independent verification of events in the conflict zone is difficult to come by as journalists have been prevented from having access.

However aid workers say that many of the people who have escaped since the army blasted through a rebel fortification early on Monday are in a wretched state, sick and badly wounded. Staff of the Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) charity working at one of the hospitals treating the refugees, in the town of Vavuniya, say most of their injuries come from landmines, shrapnel and shellfire.

Vavuniya lies about 65 miles inland from the conflict zone, but MSF quoted its mental health worker, Karen Stewart, as saying the shelling could be heard even from there. "Almost everyone has left someone behind in the conflict area," she said. "Probably 85 per cent of the people I've talked to have witnessed horrific things, like being in a bunker, and suddenly a shell goes and it's killed half the people in the bunker. Someone else I spoke to told me how she went out to find some water and when she came back everyone in her bunker was dead."

Ms Stewart described the situation in the main hospital as chaotic, with 1,200 patients but a bed capacity of just over 400, and many lying on the floor.

Near Vavuniya, the authorities are using schools to accommodate refugees newly bused in from the war zone. They are building what are called relief villages to house them but are struggling to allocate enough shelter with proper sanitation.

As concern for those left behind mounts, governments including Britain and India have urged Sri Lanka to allow a further pause in their offensive and let more civilians out. But the authorities in Colombo say there is now no going back, and insist that the mass exodus of civilians – in far greater numbers than they had ever acknowledged were trapped inside – means another cessation of their campaign is unnecessary.

Yesterday more criticism came from Washington. The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said: "I think that the Sri Lankan government knows that the entire world is very disappointed that, in its efforts to end what it sees as 25 years of conflict, it is causing such untold suffering." The UN Security Council was last night expected to hold an informal meeting on Sri Lanka. China and Russia so far have opposed attempts to bring up Sri Lanka officially at the council.

Dead or alive? The head of the Tamil Tigers

Will the leader of the Tamil Tigers go down with his troops? Is he still alive? For more than 30 years Velupillai Prabhakaran has evaded capture in the jungles of northern Sri Lanka where he has waged a brutal military campaign to create a Tamil homeland.

The 54-year-old founder of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has ordered his bodyguards to kill him if he is cornered. Like members of his infamous Black Tiger suicide squad, Prabhakaran also wears cyanide capsules around his neck at all times. Critics describe a ruthless terrorist leader who brutally suppressed any Tamil opposition to the Tigers. But to millions of Tamils he is lionised as a freedom fighter and lovingly referred to as "Thamby" (little brother).

But whether he is still leading the Tigers' last stand, or is even alive, remains to be seen. Both the military and the LTTE insist that he is on the front lines but some speculate he fled weeks ago in a boat during heavy fighting and is in hiding in south India, Malaysia or Cambodia.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us