The Sri Lankan army says it has managed to capture the last patch of coastline held by the Tamil Tigers, and claims the rebels will soon be left without any territory.
The director general of the media centre for national security in Sri Lanka – Lakhsman Hulugalle – has just gone on air to say he expects the battle will be over in ‘the next two hours’.
On Friday, the country’s government vowed it would defeat the Tamils within 48 hours, as further refugees joined the tens of thousands who have already fled rebel-held areas.
There have been international calls for a truce, and the Red Cross has warned of an ‘unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe’, with thousands left wounded by the fighting.
Early this morning, two army divisions linked up on the northwest coast to deny the rebels sea access for the first time, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.
He added that rebel leaders and a number of civilians had been left occupying a tiny 1.2 square mile strip.
The Tamils, who only two years ago controlled nearly a third of the island, previously ran a formidable navy and sea smuggling operation.
They argue they are fighting for a homeland for ethnic minority Tamils.
Government forces have been hunting for the reclusive rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his top deputies for months, but it was unclear if they were still in the remaining patch of rebel territory or had already fled overseas.
In an appeal to Sri Lankan authorities, Britain and France joined forces to urge Colombo to avoid using heavy artillery in its final push against the rebels.
In a letter addressed to Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse, Foreign Minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner warned that "there have been a number of reports that your security forces have not lived up to these commitments."
Sri Lanka announced on April 27 that it was halting the use of heavy weapons and air strikes to spare civilian lives in its battle against the Tamil Tigers, but said it was not calling a truce.
"The use of aerial bombing is a very clear contravention of the commitments that you and your government have given," Mr Miliband and Mr Kouchner’s letter continued.
A draft statement drawn up ahead of a meeting of European Union foreign ministers on Monday called for the fighting to "stop now".
"The EU is appalled by continuing reports of high numbers of civilian casualties, including children, following recent intense fighting," said the draft statement from Brussels.