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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine