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Key Tamils surrender as army closes in

[Times Online UK, Wednesday, 22 April 2009 15:06 No Comment]

Two key Tamil Tiger officials surrendered today as Sri Lankan troops closed in on the rebels who are pinned down with tens of thousands of civilians, according to the army.


The military said that one of the two was Velayudam Dayanidi, better known as Daya Master, who was the Tigers’ main spokesman for years and the most senior rebel to have surrendered so far.


It said the other was identified only by the name of George and was an aide and interpreter to S.P. Thamilselvan, the late head of the Tigers’ political wing.


Their reported surrender is a propaganda coup for the army, as the Tigers have sworn to fight to the death – and to take the cyanide capsules that they all wear around their necks if they are captured


Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, increased his estimate of the number of civilians had fled the no-fire zone to 100,000 in the last two days. The army claims that non-combatants have been safely streaming out of the zone – now covering just five square miles – since it pushed into the area on Monday morning. Brigadier Nanyakkara also said that 3,000 members of the Tigers had been identified among those fleeing.


The army is now poised to launch its final assault on the Tigers in what it hopes will be the climax of a 26-year civil war – one of Asia’s longest – that has claimed more than 70,000 lives.


But the UN and the Red Cross insist that there are still as many as 50,000-60,000 civilians inside the zone, and have warned of a bloodbath if the offensive continues.


The Red Cross has described the situation as “catastrophic”.


Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the France-based medical aid agency, said today that hundreds of dead and wounded civilians have been brought out of frontline areas.


MSF said it was working alongside Sri Lankan hospital doctors in Vavuniya, a government controlled area in the north, and had received more than 400 new patients in the past two days.


"The buses are still coming and they’re actually unloading dead bodies at times as some wounded people died on the way," said Karen Stewart, a MSF mental health officer working in Vavuniya, according to a statement from the agency.


"It’s chaotic," Stewart added. "The beds have been pushed together so it’s like one massive bed. Instead of having one person per bed you have two, it’s just like one huge bed across the ward.


"Then there’s a whole other layer on the ground, we have people under every bed, so that’s double capacity. You also have a lot of people who are outside in the walkways lying on mats," she added.


The injuries were mostly caused by shrapnel and landmines, according to MSF.


Norway, the former peace broker in the conflict, joined the United States and Britain today in calling for both sides to do more to prevent civilian casualties.


"It is unacceptable that hundreds of civilians have been killed or wounded in the latest stages of the fighting in Sri Lanka. This could have been avoided," Erik Solheim, the Minister of Environment and International Development, said.


France, meanwhile, proposed launching a joint operation with Britiain to deliver aid by boat to the civilians.


"We will try to launch an operation," Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, said in a radio interview, adding that he would discuss the plan with his British counterpart, David Miliband.


He also said there were no plans for a military intervention. "We have certainly not reached that point," he said.

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