Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: “When the end came for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in May, 2009, it was overwhelming and unmerciful. In a three-year offensive of increasing sophistication, the Sri Lankan Army had outmaneuvered one of the world’s most ruthless insurgent armies. The battlefield defeat ended a vicious conflict that for twenty-six years had divided Sri Lanka along ethnic lines, as the country’s Tamils, a mostly Hindu minority, fought for the creation of a separate state against the ruling majority of Sinhalese Buddhists. [Source: Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011]

The Tamil army — known as the L.T.T.E., or simply the Tigers — was led by Velupillai Prabhakaran, a charismatic, elusive man who had become one of the most successful guerrilla leaders of modern times. The Tigers were persistent suicide bombers, as well as relentless guerrilla fighters, and the war took at least a hundred thousand lives in Sri Lanka. In many respects — its entrenched religious and ethnic conflicts, its festering guerrilla warfare and suicide bombings, its seamless interchange between civilians and combatants — the war prefigured any number of later conflicts. Where it differed was in the government’s brutal effectiveness in putting down the insurgency. To the extent that a counter-insurgency campaign can be successful, Sri Lanka is a grisly test case for success in modern warfare.


2008 - Government annuls ceasefire in early January and launches massive offensive. [Source: Reuters, The Times of India]

January 2, 2009 - Troops seize Tiger’s de facto capital, Kilinochchi.

April 17 - Rebels call for a truce after two-day government fighting pause expires. Government rejects the call as a ruse.

April 20 - Sri Lanka gives the rebels 24 hours to surrender as tens of thousands of civilians flee battle zone. Exodus tops 115,000 in just a week.

April 26 - Tigers declare unilateral ceasefire. Sri Lanka calls it “a joke” and says LTTE must surrender.

May 16 - Military takes control of entire coastline for first time since war began. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking during meeting of developing nations in Jordan, says the LTTE has been defeated militarily, even as heavy fighting rages.

May 17 - More than 70 LTTE fighters disguised as civilians killed while trying to flee by boat. Many more blow themselves up in suicide attacks as army battles to finish them off. Military declares all civilians freed; says number in excess of 72,000 over four days.

May 18 - Military declares entire island under government control after troops defeat remaining Tiger resistance. Tiger leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran killed by special forces troops while trying to escape war zone in ambulance, state TV says. Other top-ranked Tigers also killed in final fight.

Mahinda Rajapaksa and Political Willpower to End the War

Emily Wax wrote in the Washington Post, “The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who came to power in 2005 amid a wave of Sinhalese nationalism, has had a free hand to crush the separatists, diplomats here said. The majority of Sri Lankans were apparently fed up with the war and seemed willing to give the new president any powers necessary to bring about its end. In just two years, the country enlarged its military by 40 percent, adding as many as 7,000 recruits a month. Officials sent text messages to youths and put patriotic pop hits on the radio. Sri Lanka's military now has about 300,000 troops, military officials said. [Source: Emily Wax, Washington Post, February 22, 2009]

“The country's defense minister, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a brother of the president who once lived in California, is seen as the main architect of the government's new strategy. "We gave clear instructions: no cease-fires, no negotiations until we defeat the LTTE completely," he said in an interview. "The LTTE would use cease-fires and peace talks to reorganize and resupply weapons. There have been five presidents, eight governments, different political parties and different personalities, dozens of negotiations and more than 10 cease-fires. Everything failed. After every period of negotiation, they came back stronger. We decided enough was enough."

“Rajapaksa said the turning point in the war occurred in the halls of government when his brother was elected, not on the battlefield. "For the first time, we have a clear vision. We had to end this militarily," said the defense minister, who survived an assassination attempt by the LTTE. His commitment is personal, those who know him said. Some say the Tamil Tigers has grown weaker and lost popularity among civilians for its practice of forcing every family to send at least one fighter, often a child, into battle.

“Diplomats and political experts said it is also easier for the Sri Lankan government to have a unified vision when the three most powerful people in the country — the president, the defense minister and the president's top adviser — are brothers. "It's a family affair," said Suresh K. Premachandran, a Tamil member of Parliament and a critic of the administration. "They might be able to win the war, but they must still address its root cause: discrimination against many in the Tamil community."

“Controlling information has also become a weapon in the war. Questioning the lack of transparency in the military offensive is seen as treasonous and often mocked. Last year, John Holmes, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, called Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous places in the world for aid workers after the still-unsolved killing of 17 people employed by a French aid group in August 2006. Soon after Holmes's comment, a cabinet minister accused him of being on the rebels' payroll. Holmes is visiting the country, urging both sides to protect civilians.

"We have senior government officials who came on national TV and called journalists and human rights workers terrorists," said Lal Wickramatunga, whose brother, Lasantha Wickramatunga, 52, a journalist and fierce critic of the government, was killed last month by unknown gunmen. "This is a way to win the war: Keep all outside eyes off the battlefields. Anyone who wants to know the truth will be called unpatriotic."

“Still, many Sri Lankans in this Sinhala Buddhist-majority nation of 21 million people eagerly support the Rajapaksa government and its push to defeat the Tigers. Given this support, the Sri Lankan army has become more ruthless, some military analysts said, adopting the guerrilla-style warfare of the Tigers. The military has also lured top rebel commanders away from the battlefield with offers of government jobs.”

International Climate Aids the Fight Against the Tamil Tigers

Emily Wax wrote in the Washington Post, “Since the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, the American government also became more diligent about shutting down funding for overseas insurgent groups. This month, the U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of a Maryland-based charity, the Tamil Foundation, that officials accuse of funneling money to the Tiger rebels. At the same time, the Sri Lankan government forged new relationships with China and Pakistan after the United States cut off direct military aid last year, mainly because of alleged human rights abuses and the use of children by a breakaway rebel faction now under the control of the government in the east, according to a State Department human rights report. [Source: Emily Wax, Washington Post, February 22, 2009]

"In a post-9/11 scenario, 'terrorist' became a very dirty word. The government suddenly had an advantage in the international arena in fighting the Tamil Tigers, an organization that the FBI called 'the most ruthless and efficient terror organization in the world,' " said Kusal Perera, head of an independent news Web site, Lankadissent.com. "The world scenario changed in favor of the government." China's assistance has jumped fivefold in the past year to nearly $1 billion; it is now Sri Lanka's biggest donor. In 2007, Pakistan increased its annual military assistance loan to Sri Lanka by $31 million, bringing its total annual assistance to $80 million.

Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: “Sri Lanka’s war dragged to its bloody climax just as Obama took office. Perhaps for this reason, the official American position was one of lawyerly, largely ineffective disapproval, with the U.S. Ambassador, Robert Blake, voicing humanitarian concerns and occasional criticism of the government, but otherwise keeping quiet. The U.S. and the European Union did curb arms sales to Sri Lanka, so the Rajapaksa government turned instead to Eastern nations. China, in the last year of the war, supplied a billion dollars’ worth of military aid, including fighter jets, air-surveillance radar, and anti-aircraft batteries; Russia and Pakistan provided artillery shells and small arms; Iran supplied fuel. [Source: Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011]

“Unofficially, however, the United States had provided some help. Sri Lankan diplomats and military officers acknowledged to me privately that U.S. satellite intelligence had been crucial when, in 2008, Sri Lanka’s Navy sank seven Tiger ships loaded with military cargo. The ships — members of the Sea Pigeons fleet, which sailed without identification from various Asian seaports — were cruising in international waters, as far as a thousand miles from Sri Lanka, when they were attacked. They carried war material worth tens of millions of dollars, and their destruction deprived the Tigers of their traditional means of military resupply just as the Sri Lankan Army ramped up hostilities. From then on, the Tigers were on the run, herded ineluctably into shrinking territory.”

January 2009: the Fall of Kilinochchi

Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: “The Tigers’ collapse began in January, 2009, when they lost the town of Kilinochchi, their de-facto capital. For an organization that had controlled much of northern and eastern Sri Lanka for nearly a decade, it was a devastating reversal. Their remaining fighters, a force of about fifteen thousand, retreated into the jungle near the coastal town of Mullaittivu, taking along more than three hundred thousand Tamil civilians who were trapped with them. With international concern mounting over the safety of the civilians, the Sri Lankan Army designated a series of “no-fire zones” and told civilians to assemble there. It then shelled those zones repeatedly, while issuing denials that it was doing so and forbidding journalists access to the area. Hundreds of people were killed every day. By mid-April, the Tamil rebels and the civilians were trapped on a bloody stretch of beach about a mile long. Hemmed in by the sea, a lagoon, and a hundred thousand government soldiers, they were all but helpless, as the Army kept up a barrage of fire from gunboats, aircraft, and field artillery. [Source: Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011]

Describing the fighting in early January, Rahul Bedi wrote in The Telegraph: “Troops backed by strike aircraft, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery had forced the rebels to withdraw from much of the city. The rebels captured Kilinochchi in 1999 and turned it into the administrative centre for the territory they controlled in northern Sri Lanka. The army claimed that at least 50 Tamil fighters had been killed in the latest the battle - and refrained from disclosing its own losses. Journalists and neutral observers remain barred from the war zone, rendering it impossible to verify the claims of either side. [Source: Rahul Bedi, The Telegraph, January 2, 2009

“But military observers have no doubt that government forces are prevailing. While the fighting is likely to continue, the rebels have lost their grip on large swathes of territory and Kilinochchi's fall would be a devastating setback. "Losing Kilinochchi would be decisive in determining the future of Sri Lanka's civil strife as the rebels would be driven out of territory they had long controlled, severely compromising their goal of securing independence," said a senior military officer.

“The government's offensive has deprived the LTTE of strongholds in the East - and the rebels are now in steady retreat in the north. There was no word from the rebels on Kilinochchi's capitulation, but earlier this week they claimed to be successfully defending the city, where they run their own courts, police force and political administration.

AFP reported: “The renewed fighting came as the government said the battle against the cornered Tigers was at a "decisive stage" and that it could not guarantee the security of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in rebel-held territory. The Sri Lankan army “offensive has seen the LTTE's territory shrink from about 18,000 square kilometers (7,000 square miles) to an area of less than 300 square kilometers. The government says the rebels are using at least 120,000 civilians as a human shield. The United Nations says a quarter of a million people are trapped by the fighting.” [Source: AFP, February 3, 2009]

Army Seizes Tamil Tiger Chief's Main Bunker

The underground bunker believed to have been the home of Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran has been seized as Kilinochchi was taken by Sri Lankan troops. AFP reported: The Sri Lankan army said it had captured an elaborate underground bunker complex believed to have been the home of the leader of the Tamil Tigers as well as the rebels' last jungle airstrip. Soldiers seized the facilities amid a fresh escalation of fighting in the northeast, where government troops are pressing on with an all-out assault on the remaining patch of jungle held by the ethnic guerrillas. [Source: AFP, February 3, 2009]

“The captured two-storey-deep bunker had sound-proof electricity generators, air conditioning and medical supplies and was hidden in a coconut grove in Mullaittivu district, the defence ministry said. It described the site as the "main LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) hideout" and "a major residential site" of rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. Pictures released by the defence ministry purported to show that Prabhakaran had left behind a stuffed Tiger, a paintball gun and a bottle of cognac. At least 20 guerrillas were killed trying to defend the facility and another 12 rebels died in other clashes, the ministry said.

“The whereabouts of Prabhakaran, 54, are not known, but Sri Lanka's military has said the Tiger chief may have already fled the island by boat. Also captured was what is believed to be the last of several jungle airstrips used by the Tamil Tigers to launch air strikes across the island, the defence ministry said. The two-kilometer (1.25-mile) long runway and hangar for light aircraft was seized by troops advancing on the village of Thirivilaru in Mullaittivu district. No aircraft were found, but search operations were underway, a military official added.

Sinhalese Villagers Take Up Arms Against the Tamil Tiger

Reporting from Vavuniya near the Tamil area of Sri Lanka, Emily Wax wrote in the Washington Post: “Sandya Kanthi and her husband were once rice farmers. They tended paddies among the lush coconut groves and banana palms just outside this town. Now they are warriors, rifles in hand and neatly pressed khaki uniforms on their backs. They are among an estimated 45,000 largely Sinhalese villagers who have joined what is known here as the Civil Defense Forces, Sri Lanka's version of the National Guard, a paramilitary civilian group whose job is to defend villages, often in areas that have been attacked by ethnic Tamil separatist rebels in Asia's longest-running insurgency. [Source: Emily Wax, Washington Post, February 22, 2009]

After a few weeks of weapons training, the villagers are given uniforms, guns and a monthly salary of about $140. "We know our roads. We know the jungle. And we are the most successful when it comes to saving our villages," said Kanthi, 36, wearing a uniform top over her skirt, a rifle slung across her chest. The mother of two is among 400 civilians in Periyaulukkulama, 15 miles west of Vavuniya, some of whom joined forces after their village was attacked on the Sinhalese New Year in April 2007, reportedly by rebels, who killed four female civilian officers. "We want to save our motherland and fight the terrorists," Kanthi added. "We also know the war will end soon."

“The increased arming of civilians in rural areas illustrates how Sri Lanka's government has been able to push the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, to the brink of defeat after more than a quarter-century of sporadic fighting, cease-fires and failed negotiations. The group has been fighting for a separate Tamil homeland in the north of this Indian Ocean island since the 1980s, but in the past few months it has lost more than 2,160 square miles of territory, including its main lair in Kilinochchi. It now controls a 34-square-mile patch of jungle.

Recruiting Boys and Young Men Until the Bitter End

Mark Magnier wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The white tattered strips line the main road to Kuliyapitiya, hanging off telephone poles and fence posts, each one signifying another funeral, another loss, another hole punched in the heart of a family. A few miles away, in the center of town, ribbons of another sort decorate the chest of a commando at a recruiting post working to impress a group of teenage boys. A recent surge by the Sri Lankan army, boosted by an aggressive expansion of its forces, has prompted the government to predict that victory is just around the corner in its 25-year war with the Tamil Tiger rebels who have sought to carve out a homeland in the north and east of this [Source: Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2009]

“As families in the community confront the human toll, the war machine continues to draw in new recruits. At the Kuliyapitiya Urban Council complex in town, a bus ringed with loudspeakers and posters of fighting men lures new enthusiasts. "When you come to the interview, bring your stuff and be ready to go," advises a nearby poster showing a soldier in a Rambo-style pose. A few miles away, Kusuma Gunawardana sits on a hard bed trying to make sense of it all, a cat curled at her side, tears running down her worn face. Her son, a soldier in the Sri Lankan army, has been missing since mid-January. Nationwide, the missing number in the thousands, the result of desertions, front lines that have shifted repeatedly and dense jungle that can decompose a body in rapid order.

“Farther down the back roads of the community, posters glorify those who died as placards urge citizens to donate blood, using pictures of neighbors who have already signed up and shipped out as an incentive. "Brother you have not died, you bloom as a flower among us," reads a poster marking the death of a commando who died recently at Elephant Pass. A few feet from the commando with a chestful of ribbons, Koolitha Manchanayaka, 19, waits by the recruiting bus talking to friends after signing up. The teenager is accompanied by his father and a cousin and is ready to fulfill a dream he's had since he was 17. His parents were reluctant to let him go, he said, but he eventually persuaded them after promising to be careful. For added security, he wears a pirith cord, a string worn around the wrist, blessed by monks at a nearby Buddhist temple. Sure, there is a risk that he will be captured or killed, he said. "It could happen to anyone, but I'm not scared," he said, his eyes alight with excitement. "This is the right time to go. If I'm not involved at this decisive time, there's no point."

The military added 40,000 recruits in each of the last two years, said Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, to reach the current 180,000 level for the armed forces. Those with missing family members receive a death settlement after one year of about $750 for single soldiers and $1,500 for married, along with other pension and insurance payouts.

Fighting During the 2009 Offensive Against the Tigers

The Guardian reported: "Day by day the shelling was getting worse. We were living in a bunker we had dug in the sand. There was shelling coming from the army area and the LTTE was shelling from inside the zone and sometimes they would come to take the boys as recruits," said Sinnathamby Ampumani, 48, a teacher.He spoke to the fisherman and decided to try to make it to India. It was 3.30am when Ampumani reached the shore with his family. [Source: Gethin Chamberlain in Mandapam, Tamil Nadu, The Guardian, April 23, 2009]

Sri Lanka's ITN channel showed footage of escaping civilians. A fleeing Tamil woman told the channel that "there are people dead everywhere, on the streets and everywhere." The government maintains that the Tigers are using civilians as human shields and they need to be rescued. Any civilian deaths inside Tiger territory have been blamed on the rebels.

Frances Harrison wrote in Asian Correspondent:“In the chaos of the last weeks of the civil war in 2009, Kumaran was badly injured when a cluster bomb landed close to him. Medicine and even bandages were running out and the handful of doctors left were amputating limbs with butcher’s knives and no anesthetic. Without medical treatment Kumaran had no chance of recovery. He decided to make a run for it across the frontline – first throwing away the cyanide capsule that’s standard issue for Tamil Tigers rebels to swallow in case of capture. As soon as he crossed the frontline, two former rebels turned traitor immediately spotted Kumaran and pointed him out to the army. “They had no choice if they wanted to live,” Kumaran said with sympathy. “They only informed on people who were very obviously fighters and would be noticed anyway,” he said, explaining why he too turned informer once in the hands of the enemy. The screams of his comrades being tortured in the detention centre were enough to turn him. [Source: Frances Harrison, Asian Correspondent, March 3, 2013]

Tamil Tiger Child Soldier at the End of the War

Krishan Francis of Associated Press wrote: “When the violence was worsening in February, UNICEF accused the rebels of stepping up their forcible recruitment of children, saying it had recorded 6,000 such cases since 2003. Although Vinojan spent his whole life living under rebel control in the remote northern village of Tharmapuram, he managed to have a somewhat normal childhood. [Source: Krishan Francis, Associated Press, October 24, 2009]

“Then, as fighting flared in 2007, the rebels began seeking fresh recruits. A letter arrived summoning Vinojan's older brother, who had just turned 18, to join the fight. The family hid in the jungle rather than comply. But Vinojan's father couldn't work and his three siblings couldn't go to school, so, at 15, he volunteered to join the rebels in his brother's place, he said. At first he ferried meals to fighters. Early this year, the family decided to dash across the front lines. The rebels, who were holding tens of thousands of civilians as human shields, opened fire. Vinojan hit the ground and was captured. "My parents were unaware that I got caught. If they knew, they wouldn't have gone. So I did not shout, I just let them go," he said.

“The rebels tied him to a tree and whipped him with a palm branch, he said. Then they gave him 10 days of training and a rifle and sent him and other child soldiers to the front. "We were all scared and only wanted to retreat," he said, adding that he fired shots randomly but never had a chance to take aim at anyone. After five days, he deserted and hid with a sympathetic family. He was caught again and sent back to the front, where food was dwindling and fighters went a month without a bath or change of clothes, he said.

The rebels made it clear how further escape attempts would be punished. "One of my comrades was blindfolded, made to kneel and shot in front of us," Vinojan said. But the army kept advancing, so the boy tried to escape again, this time hiding in an abandoned house for five days with no food or water before meeting up with an aunt and uncle. Then an artillery shell hit their shelter, killing the uncle, aunt and their 1-year-old baby. Vinojan was in the jungle at the time. "I cried and then gathered up the remains, put them in a nearby bunker and covered it with soil," Vinojan said. Finally, on April 20, the army broke through and Vinojan joined tens of thousands of others escaping across a lagoon to government territory.

Internment Camps in Tamil Area

Emily Wax wrote in the Washington Post: “More than 150 miles from Colombo, in this dusty frontier town of Vavuniya, thousands of Sri Lankan army forces patrol the streets. Schools and community centers have been turned into military-run camps, sheltering the tens of thousands of Tamil civilians fleeing the civil war's front lines just 50 miles north. [Source: Emily Wax, Washington Post, February 22, 2009]

“The heavily guarded camps are sealed off from most outsiders, including foreign journalists, leaving the condition of those inside open to conjecture and rumor. A 45-page Human Rights Watch report released Friday said the camps are "internment centers masquerading as 'welfare villages' . . . where entire families detained in these military-controlled, barbed-wire camps are denied their liberty and freedom of movement." The government has defended the camps, saying they are closed for the security of those inside because Tamil insurgents might be mixing with the population.

“Just across from the camps, bright pink bougainvillea flowers dangle over billboards proclaiming an end to "terrorism" and the dawn of a new, united Sri Lanka, with children of the island's various cultures beaming in their native dress, hands clasped as doves soar over the president's smiling face. But those visions will remain only a slogan unless the government addresses deep anger and fear among Tamils, who cite decades of resentment over what they said are discriminatory policies, analysts here said.”

Tamil Refugees Flee to India

Tens of thousands of refugees fled to Tamil Nadu in India. The Guardian reported: “boat-loads of refugees have arrived in Tamil Nadu – and others have attempted the trip – to avoid internment in government-run camps. Aid workers say some boats have sunk and children have been washed overboard. Other fleeing the fighting have sailed along the coast to government-held areas...Three families who made the perilous journey to India described their escape. In all, 13 of them slipped away in the middle of the night to avoid being spotted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels, who were reportedly shooting those fleeing.

They climbed into a boat belonging to Sivachandran Sivasnanam, a fisherman from Jaffna, who had persuaded the rebels to let him to take it out fishing. "We didn't take anything with us except for a few jewels and some money because if we had been seen other people would have informed on us," he said. As quietly as they could, they pushed off. "We kept close to the shore for as long as we could and then headed into the open sea and turned left." Eventually they spotted an Indian fishing boat, which gave them food and water and pointed them in the direction of the sub continent. Three hours later, they met a trawler. By this time, they had been travelling for most of the day and were almost out of fuel, Ampumani said.

“According to aid workers, there are 117 camps in Tamil Nadu housing about 70,000 refugees. Sooriya Kumary, from the group OFERR, which is working with Christian Aid, said the refugees were risking their lives to make the sea journey because they feared being arrested and harassed by the authorities in Sri Lanka or having their children forcibly recruited by the LTTE. "They feel safer in India," she said. "The vast majority are coming by boat. They are coming in flimsy fishing boats and it's a very dangerous crossing. Sometimes the boats capsize. The sea is very rough and sometimes women are not able to hold onto their children. Sometimes they just take too many people in the boat and they sink.

Civilians Trapped as Sri Lankan Army Breaks the Tiger’s Defenses in April 2009

Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: “On April 21st, the Army broke through the Tigers’ defenses, creating a chaotic corridor that, over several days, allowed nearly two hundred thousand famished and wounded civilians to flee into its custody. The Army had ordered most relief workers and all international observers to leave the area, but it nonetheless billed its offensive as a “humanitarian operation” to rescue hostages from the Tigers. (The Tigers did in fact prevent some civilians from fleeing, and shot hundreds of them as they tried to escape.)” [Source: Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011]

“The Tigers’ defenders, meanwhile, claimed that the Army was committing genocide. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admonished Sri Lanka’s government, saying that “the entire world is very disappointed” by the “untold suffering” that was being caused by its efforts to end the war. There were later reports, which the government denied, that as many as forty thousand civilians were killed during the Army’s final offensive, and that their bodies were burned or buried in secret mass graves.

“The foreign secretaries of France and Great Britain flew to Sri Lanka, where they pleaded with the government to call a ceasefire in order to rescue the civilians who were still trapped. Suspicious that the diplomats also wanted to save the Tiger leaders, the government ignored them. Tens of thousands of civilians remained in the kill zone, which continued to shrink until it was no bigger than four football fields.”

Final Assault on Cornered Tamil Tigers

At the end of their offensive, the Sri Lankan army boxed remaining LTTE cadres into a 400 meters x 600 meters land stretch in the Vellaimullaivaikkal area. According to the Sri Lankan government at this stage the Tamil Tigers are "slowly giving up" their fight against advancing troops cornered in their last tiny strip tiger territory. The military had complete control of the country's coastline and surround the reeling Tamil Tigers in a final push. The pro-Tiger Tamilnet said the narrow beach and lagoon area from where the LTTE have been mounting a last stand was engulfed in smoke. It said close-quarter combat had been raging.

The Sri Lankan army completed a pincer movement to surround the Tigers, seizing control of the coastline and cutting off the rebel group's escape route to the sea. The whereabouts of LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, and other senior commanders at that point was unknown. The remaining LTTE cadres made an abortive attempt to breach the Army defence line on the Western bank of the Nanthikadal lagoon during the wee hours of May 17. The LTTE cadres launched a surface attack across the Nanthikadal lagoon using several boats between 1.30am and 3:30am. According to the latest information, troops have been able to crush the LTTE attack causing heavy damages to their members. Troops have so far collected over 80 bodies of LTTE cadres.At least six LTTE boats were destroyed.

Gethin Chamberlain wrote in The Guardian: The violence in Sri Lanka was close to a bloody conclusion as the country's armed forces sought to destroy the last pocket of Tamil Tiger fighters in defiance of international pleas for a halt to the fighting and accusations from the UN that they had triggered a bloodbath. While leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam were reported to be preparing to kill themselves rather than be captured, explosions reverberated around the tiny coastal strip where as many as 80,000 civilians remained trapped alongside the cornered rebels. [Source: Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian, May 16, 2009]

Civilians Trapped During the Final Assault on Cornered Tamil Tigers

Gethin Chamberlain wrote in The Guardian: Humanitarian aid workers were in despair as sporadic reports filtered out of thousands of civilians killed inside the "no fire zone", the government-designated haven where non-combatants were supposed to be able to escape the fighting. "It is hard to think of a worse place on earth to be right now than on that stretch of beach," said James Elder, the Unicef spokesman in Sri Lanka, as he struggled to contain his emotions. [Source: Gethin Chamberlain, The Guardian, May 16, 2009]

“The Sri Lankan military said the Tigers, which have used the trapped civilians as human shields in an attempt to keep the army at bay, were detonating their ammunition dumps. There were no reliable figures available for civilian casualties, but with tens of thousands of people crammed into an area of less than one square mile, humanitarian agencies feared the worst. The military said last night that 10,000 civilians had breached the Tigers' inner cordon and were being shepherded to safety under fire from the rebels. Elder said those who remained were at the mercy of "indiscriminate firing" from all sides. "It is a bloodbath. It is a catastrophic situation," he said. "We are seeing a complete disregard for civilian life. Everyone's worst-case scenario is coming to pass."

About 20,000 people are believed to have escaped from the no-fire zone between Thursday and yesterday afternoon, but Elder said many of those who had managed to get out were in a terrible condition. "When you look at the state of the first people to leave three weeks ago, there were malnourished children and women, and people with gunshot wounds and shrapnel injuries, and these people now have been there for another three weeks with next to nothing to eat in terrible conditions. It is going to be a nightmare," he said.

Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman, said reliable reports from inside the war zone had dried up after the "courageous" doctors who had been working out of the last makeshift hospital at Mullaivaikal East primary school were forced to abandon the building in the face of heavy fighting. "We are most concerned about the fate of the 30,000 to 80,000 people who are left inside the combat zone," he said. "This is precisely the situation we feared all along - that they would be left inside at the penultimate moments of the battle."

Despite the mounting death toll, neither side in the conflict showed any willingness to lay down arms to allow the trapped civilians to escape. The Tigers said in a statement that they were "extremely mindful of the civilian hardships" and were "prepared to take all necessary measures that would immediately stop the current carnage". They said that "an onslaught by the government will only result in thousands more dying and will not pave a way for a dignified and respectful outcome". The Sri Lankan military said it would press on with what it described as a humanitarian operation. Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, the military spokesman, said: "Operations are continuing to rescue the civilians still being held hostage by the terrorists."

Sri Lanka Troops enter No-Fire-Zone

According to the website of Prasanna De Silva, an officer in the Sri Lankan army, government “troops have entered a part of the 2.5 kilometers long no- fire- zone in Vellamullivaikkal this morning, government spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said. He added that LTTE leader V.Prabhakaran is believed to be trapped in this area. Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said that in two separte incidents at least 35 LTTE cadres were killed as troops were entering the 'safety zone'. [Source: Prasanna De Silva, General Officer Commanding 55th Infantry Division Sri Lanka Army, May 12, 2009]

“North-bound, troops from the 59 Division troops led by Brigadier Prasanna Silva advanced further crossing the LTTE constructed earth bund c-um ditch North of the Wadduvakal causeway, early this morning (May 12). According to latest military reports, the initial forward military thrust made by 6 SLLI and 12 SLLI infantrymen was followed by the induction of Special Forces resulting in a rapid wipe-out of the remaining terrorist resistance in the area. Troops have advanced 300 meters further into LTTE defences after consolidating positions at the Wadduvakal causeway, military said.

“The capture of the causeway and adjacent territory would open-up another alternative escape route for the civilians held hostage by LTTE terrorists. Not only troops have secured the Wadduvakal causeway, entrance to the Mullaittivu shallow waters, but also denied LTTE the use of the Nanthikadal lagoon minimizing concentrated LTTE attacks at fleeing civilians, an observer said.

“Terrorists' put-on stiff resistances backed by heavy artillery and mortar fire mounted from the newly declared 2km long civilian safe zone (CSZ) at Vellamullivaikkal since the early hours, military said. The ground advances are made in steady phase with total consideration of avoiding civilian casualties while ensuring safe passage from the LTTE clutches, an area military official said. According to intercepted LTTE communication, senior cadres and those newly recruited at the forward battle lines were engaged in heated arguments blaming each other for the recent debacle.

“Meanwhile, three LTTE suicide bombers hiding inside underground bunkers have blown themselves as advancing 58 Division troops closed-in on them. At least 10 terrorists were killed and several soldiers injured due to the explosions this morning, security forces further said. The injured soldiers were evacuated for medical treatment, according to military.

“Furthermore, 58 Div troops have uncovered 25 slain LTTE bodies, 20 T-56 assault riffles, 01 LMG assault gun and an I-com set following hours of fierce fighting ensued in general area Karayanmullivaikkal. Two more anti aircraft guns belonging to LTTE along with a few more weapons and ammunitions were found by the troops during a search and clear operation in the newly-captured Karayanmullivaikkai area in Mullaitivu on Sunday. The army headquarters said both weapons of six barrels with 27 mm calibre, mounted on two double cabs had been left behind by terrorists as the troops were rolling onto the area a few days ago.

In addition, one 30 mm cannon gun, three hundred and seven 30 mm ammunition rounds, three paddle gun ammunition, one Multi Purpose Machine Gun (MPMG) tripod, fourteen T 56 weapons, two hundred seven rounds of 12.7 mm ammunition, three I-com sets, three suicide jackets, one suicide water scooter and two claymore mines were among the other items found from the area. The same day, troops in the general areas of Visuamadu uncovered eleven Out Board Motors (OBM), thirty four claymore mines, one T-56 weapon, 1 kg of high explosives and thirteen maps. Meanwhile, troops engaged in continuous search and clear operations in the general areas of Mullaitivu, Kokavil, Alleiwewa south and Kayhankudi found one Light Machine Gun (LMG), eighty two thousand three hundred fifty rounds of T-56 ammunition, one thousand and ninety seven anti personnel mines, ten 15 kg vehicle bombs and one hundred fifty six detonator cords.”

Prabhakaran’s Last Hideout

Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: “At some point during the Army’s siege of his headquarters at Kilinochchi — before the city fell, in January, 2009 — he is believed to have escaped with his wife and children and their bodyguards to one of his hiding places in the jungle, in an area called Visuamadu. For weeks at a time, they lived literally underground in an elaborate hideout. [Source: Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011]

“The house was so ingeniously concealed that its existence was discovered only in 2009, when soldiers stumbled across it. They discovered an underground lair of rooms descending fifty feet, with bulletproof doors, air-conditioning, surveillance cameras, and electricity from a soundproof generator. They claimed to have also found oxygen tanks, a bottle of cognac, and a supply of insulin (suggesting that Prabhakaran, who had grown rotund in recent years, may have been diabetic), as well as a Marks and Spencer shirt with a forty-two-and-a-half-inch chest.

“The Army maintained the compound as a private museum for select visitors. At the end of a paved road just wide enough for a single jeep was a modest-looking pink bungalow, its roof camouflaged by dried palm fronds. Another palm-covered structure concealed a drive-down subterranean garage. Next to the fenced entrance of the compound was an open-air funeral bier, where the bodies of slain Tiger officers were brought so that Prabhakaran could pronounce words of homage before they were disposed of.

“Down a narrow stairwell from the bungalow’s front room was a claustrophobic series of small, tile-floored rooms. The last one held an emergency exit, where an iron staircase spiralled up to ground level at the rear of the house. From the top of the stairs, Prabhakaran would have had to run only a few feet to reach the protection of the surrounding jungle.”

Prabhakaran’s Death

Prabhakaran was shot dead by the Sri Lanka Army at Mullivaikkal in Mullaithivu district in northern Sri Lanka. Robert Bosleigh wrote on Times Online: “Prabhakaran was killed this morning along with two of his deputies after a two-hour firefight when they tried to break to freedom through advancing government troops, defence officials said. His body was badly burnt when his armour-plated van was hit by a rocket and burst into flames. State television broke into its regular programming to announce Prabhakaran’s death, and the government information department sent a text message to cell phones across the country confirming that he was dead. The announcement prompted mass celebrations around the country, and people poured into the streets of Colombo dancing and singing.” [Source: Robert Bosleigh, Times Online, May 18, 2009]

Prabhakaran had been boxed into a 100-x-100-meter space by Sri Lankan special forces. Around 300 dead bodies were found at the scene. Prabhakaran and “his top deputies reportedly tried to escape by driving their an armour-plated van, accompanied by a bus filled with rebel fighters, straight at approaching Sri Lankan forces, sparking a two-hour firefight. The battle only ended when troops fired a rocket at the van. Troops pulled Prabhakaran’s body out and identified it. The attack also killed Soosai, the head of the rebels’ naval wing, and Pottu Amman, the group’s feared intelligence commander, the officials said.

The Tamil Tiger initially denied government reports that Prabhakaran was dead. "Our beloved leader is alive and safe. He will continue to lead the quest for dignity and freedom for the Tamil people," the Tigers' chief of international relations, Selvarasa Pathmanathan, said in a statement carried on the pro-rebel Tamilnet website.

Inconsistencies and Reports on Prabhakaran’s Death

Some of the reports of exactly what happened were conflicting. Alastair Lawson of the BBC wrote: State and private stations aired footage of what they said was the body of Prabhakaran, along with what looked like his Tamil Tiger identity card and tag. The army says his body has been positively identified with DNA testing. But there are questions surrounding Prabhakaran's identity tag. Is it really credible that a man reputed to have numerous lookalike doubles to avoid capture by the army would really carry this around with him? [Source: Alastair Lawson, BBC News, May 19, 2009]

The army says Prabhakaran's bullet-ridden body was found on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon, his last stronghold in north-east Sri Lanka on Tuesday morning. Earlier it said his body was found on Monday morning. Army spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said the rebel leader had been shot in scrubland - probably in fierce fighting. That statement contradicted an earlier announcement - made on state television but never verified by the army - that Prabhakaran's badly burnt body was discovered on Monday. It said Prabhakaran had been killed after he was ambushed by commandos as he made a desperate attempt to break through government lines in an ambulance. He had been badly burnt when his vehicle burst into flames, it said.

Gen Sarath Fonseka said: "The good news from the war front is that the body of the leader of the terrorist organisation which destroyed the country for the last 30 years, Prabhakaran, have been found by the army. We have identified the body," he said. Gen Fonseka said the bodies of the rebels would be disposed without any formal funerals as "many of them were in bad shape". The private TV stations Derana and Swarnavahini showed soldiers surrounding what the troops said was Prabhakaran's body, with his distinctive moustache and regulation tiger-stripe camouflage fatigues.”

D.B.S. Jeyaraj, posted on transCurrents: Unconfirmed reports say that the injured LTTE leader and several of his senior deputies had embraced death voluntarily in keeping with the LTTE practice of suicide. There were also conflicting reports that the LTTE had triggered off a huge explosion in which their bodies were destroyed after taking cyanide first. Another report said the armed forces had identified the “structure” in which Prabhakaran was staying and demolished it through powerful explosives. [Source: D.B.S. Jeyaraj, transCurrents, May 16, 2009]

“According to a defence-related source who spoke on condition of anonymity the military had been convinced the LTTE leader was in the Mullivaaikkaal area through intercepts of communication between some tiger cadres. Further confirmation had come when the wife of Thillaiambalam Sivanesan alias Soosai the sea tiger special commander surrendered to the Navy with some others. She had allegedly revealed that the LTTE leader was seriously injured and was staying in a well-guarded location with other senior leaders like her husband Soosai and Pottu Amman. She had also said that a team of 300 bodyguards are positioned around the place where Prabhakaran is staying and that the tiger leader is prepared to take his own life rather than surrender if surrounded.

“The military received further confirmation when a team of doctors from the LTTE’s “Thileepan medical unit” surrendered to the Army at Karaiyamullivaaikkaal. One of the medical personnel who had been attending to Prabhakaran personally had divulged further information including guidelines to the exact spot Prabhakaran was in. The military had then moved further into the area and encircled the swathe of territory Prabhakaran was in.” The Sri Lanka military refused to answer questions about the issues raised above.

Death of Prabhakaran’s Family and LTTE Leaders

Prabhakaran’s elder son Charles Antony and members of the top leadership of the LTTE, including the LTTE’s intelligence chief, Pottu Amman, and the Sea Tigers chief, Soosai, were killed after being encircled by the Sri Lankan armed forces. State TV said Prabhakaran’s body had been found with those of intelligence chief Pottu Amman and Soosai - the Tamil Tiger naval commander.

Charles Anthony was also killed by the army. The bodies of Prabhakaran’s wife and daughter were reportedly found by the Sri Lankan army but the Sri Lankan government later denied the report. His 12-year-old second son is said to have been executed. [Source: Wikipedia]

Sri Lankan military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said in May 2009 that there was no information about the whereabouts of the remaining members of Prabhakaran's family. "We have not found their bodies and have no information about them," he said. It is thought that the entire family was wiped out; the bodies of Mathivathani, Duvaraga and Balachandran reportedly were found in a bushy patch about 600 meters away from where Prabhakaran's body was found. It is now alleged that his 12-year-old son was executed.

Callum Macrae wrote in Vice News: “We obtained footage showing the aftermath of an execution, in which one of the dead was identified as Balachandran Prabhakaran, the 12-year old son of the Tiger leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The boy is lying on the ground surrounded by five executed men, believed to be his bodyguards. But it is the pattern of bullet wounds on the boy that is most disturbing. He has been shot five times. The first entry wound, on the left of his chest, is surrounded by speckling or "propellant tattooing" — evidence that this gun was just a couple of feet away from his chest when the bullet was fired. The other wounds — entering at a shallower angle — suggest they were fired after he had fallen back as a result of the first, probably fatal, shot.” [Source: Callum Macrae, Vice News, August 4, 2015]

“The government denied that their forces had executed this child — just as they denied having killed Isaipriya. But then, via JDS [Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka], we obtained two more photographs. These show Balachandran alive, in a government bunker, apparently in the custody of a uniformed Sri Lankan army officer. He is eating a snack, and looks up anxiously, like a lost child in a supermarket. Metadata encoded in the stills suggest these pictures were taken just two hours before the ones showing him dead. It seems this boy was held in custody, and even offered a snack, before he was taken and executed.”

MOD reported: The killing of Prabhakaran came as officials confirmed that more than 220 frontline rebel cadres, including his elder son Charles Anthony, LTTE political head Balasingham Nadesan and LTTE peace Secretariat chief S Pulidevan had been killed in fierce battles in the last 12 hours. The other top LTTE leaders slain include Black Tigers' chief Ramesh, Tigers' police wing chief Ilango and senior leaders Sundaram and Kapil Amman. The body of 24-year-old Anthony, chief of LTTE's air wing, was found during mopping up operations in the last rebel-held territory in the no-fire zone on Monday morning, the defence ministry said. Nadesan, a former constable of Sri Lankan police, was heading the political wing of the Tamil Tigers. S Pulidevan was the head of "LTTE peace secretariat" while S Ramesh was the chief of Black Tigers.

The following is list of identified LTTE leaders found among the dead today (May 18): Pottu Amman- LTTE's Intelligence Wing Leader; Bhanu - LTTE military leader; Jeyam- LTTE military leader; B.Nadesan- LTTE political head; S.Pulidevan- Head of LTTE's Peace Secretariat; Ramesh- LTTE special military leader; Ilango- LTTE police chief; Charles Anthony- the eldest son of LTTE chief V. Prabhakaran; Sudharman - aide to LTTE leader's son; Thomas- senior intelligence leader an; Luxman - LTTE military leader; Sri Ram- senior sea tiger cadre; Iseiaravi - LTTE female military leader; Kapil Amman - LTTE deputy intelligence leader; Ajanthi- female LTTE training in charge; Wardha - LTTE mortar in charge; Pudiyawan- Secretary to LTTE leader; Jenarthan - Special military leader.

Prabhakaran's and the Tiger’s Last Stand

A post in Defencewire reported: “Only 3 LTTE leaders, other than Prabhakaran and his wife, knew of his whereabouts. Other than his son Charles Anthony, the only other LTTE leaders who knew where he was was Poddu Ammaan, the Intelligence Chief and the head of the LTTE's Medical Unit, Reagan. The latter was taken in and detained for days until Military Intelligence got hold of him. Until then Regan had pretended he did not know Prabhakaran's whereabouts. Thanks to Reagan's information, miles officers had clearly identified Prabhakaran's lair by 16th evening/17th dawn. They uncovered an elaborate plan by Prabhakaran and gang to breach the 53 FDL. The plan was to cross the lagoon to Mullaitivu-Weli Oya Jungles, from there to reach the Eastern Province (Batticaloa/Ampara) via Trincomalee, where 'Colonel' Ram's team was waiting. [Source: Defencewire, May 18, 2009]

“Within hours of this warning, on 17th May at dawn, Tigers had started their final operation. A daring sea borne operation was launched. All Army Divisions, forewarned, reacted swiftly but the Tigers managed to breach the FDL of the 53 Division at its weakest and take-out several bunkers killing 15 SLA. They also seized an Army Ambulance. Moments later, the 53 Division retaliated. A hail of RPG HEAT/Thermobaric rockets were fired. Around 200 LTTE cadres had died in the attack. 30 bodies were reduced to ashes. Limbs of the LTTE's best were scattered all over the place. The captured ambulance was also hit in the melee and burnt swiftly. It was upon investigating the ambulance that 3 bodies, one of which resembled Prabhakaran's body structure was discovered. The body was blackened and beyond facial/physical recognition. But the Army knew it may very well be Prabhakaran. There was no other way for him to escape.

“Prabhakaran should have been killed either in the box-in by the Special Forces, the retaliation by the 53 or he should have died injured somewhere along the lagoon. The closest to his remains have been found only inside the charred ambulance. One of the hardcore cadres captured alive in the attack claimed Prabhakaran was shot and injured in the fight. But he had heard it from an eyewitness, another hardcore cadre who was killed. The charred bodies, including the one believed to be Prabhakaran were captured by the 53 Division, but were taken away by another Division.

“Some 400 bodies were captured by the Army. 1,2, and 5 Special Forces led the clearing operation. The remains may include, in future, missing leaders from the list publicized by the government such as Lawrence, Karikalan, Papa, Ilanthirayan etc. The remains of top leaders like Poddu, Bhanu and Soosei were identified. Soosei was fighting till 17th evening until the Special Forces rid him of his mysery once and for all. He and Swarnam were the last brave LTTE leaders who held their ground and fought while others were trying to flee the scene.

Major General Kamal Gunaratne: The Man Who Got Prabhakaran

Jon Lee Anderson wrote in The New Yorker: Major General Kamal Gunaratne was the field commander of the Special Forces troops that finished off Prabhakaran. During my visit, he was running the north from his base at Vavuniya, a town that, in the old days, marked the northern limits of government control. He and his officers met me in a dark wood-panelled conference room, where framed photographs showed the General and his soldiers standing over Prabhakaran’s body. Gunaratne, a tall, blustering man wearing a red beret and a camouflage uniform with a chestful of medals, described the war in heroic terms: “Our youth is gone now, but we had no choice, we had to live with this problem. But we didn’t want our children to live with it, so we decided to end it. It was a mammoth task, but we have done that for the nation.” His men had paid for Sri Lanka’s peace with their “blood, sweat, and body parts.” In the end, he said, the three-year offensive killed six thousand of his soldiers and twenty-three thousand Tigers. He added, “Since the death of the ruthless terrorist leader Prabhakaran, there have been no deaths in Sri Lanka from a terrorist act.” Gunaratne was echoing the Sri Lankan government’s official dogma: the postwar peace justifies whatever was necessary to achieve it. [Source: Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2011]

“Gunaratne showed me some private snapshots of the dead Prabhakaran, including one in which the handkerchief that covered his forehead had been removed, revealing a gaping hole in his forehead. It suggested an exit wound, as if he had been shot from behind at close range. Gunaratne had taken Prabhakaran’s dog tags, which he had given to Sarath Fonseka, the Army commander, and his Tiger I.D. card, which he had kept for himself. He pulled out his wallet and extracted it from among his credit cards. The serial number on the I.D., he pointed out, was 001. I asked if he intended to keep his trophy. He took the card and looked at it for a moment, then put it back in his wallet. “Maybe one day I’ll give it to the Army for its museum or something. But right now it’s mine. I think I’ve earned it.”

“For nations operating in the age of instant media, counter-insurgency is in significant measure a public-relations problem. What should victory look like? No matter what else happened in Vietnam, many Americans’ image of the war was formed most vividly by the photograph of the huddled civilians of My Lai moments before they were killed by U.S. soldiers. Since the cell-phone video from Mullaittivu leaked out, the Rajapaksa government has fought a second campaign to define the massacre as a glorious victory. Sri Lanka has found friends who are willing to agree, or at least not to care; these include China and other Eastern nations, as well as military experts from around the world who are impressed by the effectiveness of its tactics. The government has largely ostracized those who disagree; within its borders, it has silenced them by force.”

Defeat of the Tamil Tiger and the End of the Sri Lankan Civil War

Prabhakara’s death in May 2009 brought the Sri Lankan Civil War to a close. He had said before: “I would prefer to die in honour rather than being caught alive by the enemy”. The Tiger reported Prabhakaran's death with the announcement "We have decided to silence our guns. Our only regrets are for the lives lost and that we could not hold out for longer". Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary, formally told President Mahinda Rajapakse, in a nationally televised ceremony: “We have successfully ended the war.” President Rajapakse is his brother and commander-in-chief of the Sri Lankan armed forces.

Jeremy Page wrote in The Times: “It was supposed to be the unwinnable war. For almost three decades, Sri Lanka was held up as an example of how a small democratic state with a conventional army could never defeat a well-funded and disciplined guerrilla organisation. It has proved that to be untrue. But how Sri Lanka won its victory — and whether it should be condoned or copied — is the subject of an international debate that touches on the War on Terror, the UN and the new geopolitical world order. [Source: Jeremy Page, The Times, May 19, 2009]

AFP reported: Sri Lanka's military today declared a final victory in its decades-old conflict with the Tamil Tigers, after routing the remnants of the rebel army and killing its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. "All military operations have come to a stop," army chief Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka said in a statement after troops overran the last sliver of Tiger territory. "Now the entire country is declared rid of terrorism," Fonseka said. "Over 250 dead bodies of terrorists are scattered over the last ditch." [Source: AFP, May 19 2009]

“The victory declaration came shortly after news broke that LTTE supremo Prabhakaran had been shot dead in the final offensive. In a dramatic announcement, the guerrillas had acknowledged Sunday that their decades-old battle for an independent ethnic homeland had reached its "bitter end" - signalling Asia's longest running civil war was all but over. A last gasp appeal for peace talks - rather than a surrender - was flatly rejected by the government, and the defence ministry sent in troops with a brief to recapture "every inch of land." The capital Colombo, which has been frequently hit by Tiger suicide attacks over the past quarter century, saw street celebrations which lasted well into Sunday night.

“The Sri Lankan government's moment of triumph has also come at the cost of thousands of innocent lives lost in indiscriminate shelling, according to the United Nations. The UN's rights body now wants a war crimes probe. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only neutral organisation that has been allowed to work in the war zone, has for its part described "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe." But Sri Lanka has shrugged off the international pressure. "There was no bloodbath as some people feared," Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told reporters. "Everybody has come out safely and they are being looked after by the government."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

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