Tamil Tigers retreat to jungle

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The Independent Online

The once-feared Tamil Tigers are engaged in a series of desperate last-stand battles with government troops in the ever-diminishing patch of jungle they still control - having been driven from their final major stronghold.

In what appears to be a decisive landmark in Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war, military officials claim the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam are now squeezed into an area of jungle measuring 115 square miles, where troops are now pursuing them. The military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, said that troops were using artillery, mortars and small arms.

The push into the jungle in the Vishwamadu area, backed by helicopter gunships, came after government troops seized the north-eastern town of Mullaitivu on Sunday, the rebel fighters' last major stronghold; government troops said that the 25-year-old war was now "95 per cent" over.

However, human rights groups have also raised concerns about the fate of up to 250,000 Tamil civilians who are still trapped in the battle zone. Yet while the army appears poised for success, most analysts believe the violence will not end until there is an effective political settlement. "They will go back to being as they were before. They will retreat to the jungles and again become a guerrilla force," said Dr S Chandrasekharan, head of the India-based South Asia Analysis Group. "The military [victory] is not going to be the end of this."

The fate of the rebel leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, remains unknown. However, journalists have been banned from reaching the north of the country where the fighting against the rebels has been taking place.

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