End Is Near

Article excerpt

Byline: James Morrison, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

END IS NEAR

The top bureaucrat in Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry might as well have carried a sign declaring, The end is near, as he met with Washington officials and predicted an imminent government victory in its 25-year war with separatist rebels, now trapped on a narrow sliver of land with ammunition running low.

In a practical sense, we have already achieved victory. The LTTE is no longer a fighting force. ... The war is over, Foreign

Secretary Palitha Kohona told reporters last week, explaining that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been reduced to a few hundred hard-core rebels holding tens of thousands of civilians as what he called human shields

We need to finish this [war] and get on with the task of rebuilding, he added.

Mr. Kohona said the ethnic-Tamil rebels, who once controlled northern and eastern parts of the island nation, are hunkered down in a coastal area about one-quarter the size of Central Park in New York.

The official denied reports from some international human rights organizations that government forces are firing artillery into the area and causing widespread civilian casualties. He said shelling would also hit government troops who are slap-bang next to the LTTE. Soldiers do return fire when rebels shoot from the coastal enclave, he said.

There are civilians casualties. There is no doubt about it, he said, accusing the rebels of driving noncombatants into a war zone and holding them as hostages. The civilians would not have died if the LTTE had not herded them into the area.

Mr. Kohona said the government sends food into the rebel enclave, essentially feeding civilians and combatants alike. The government also is caring for more than 60,000 civilians in refugee camps with adequate food, shelter and medical aid, he said. The government also has evacuated 7,000 sick or injured civilians by boats.

The government suspects that many rebels are among the evacuees and are living in the refugee camps. …