longest-running war appears to be coming to an end. That is the assessment of
Sri Lanka's president, who spoke Wednesday at a rally celebrating 61 years of
independence - nearly half of it marred by fighting.
It was a day of
muted celebration in Sri Lanka's sun-drenched south, while fighting persists in
the country's north - part of a 25-year civil war between Sri Lanka's
Sinhalese-dominated government and a rebel group made up of minority ethnic
Amid heavy security in the capital, Sri Lanka celebrated 61 years
of independence with military parades and fly-overs of fighter jets.
country's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, wearing a white robe with a maroon
scarf, said government forces are on the verge of victory.
Conflict almost over
He says Sri Lanka is on the verge of what
he calls "destroying terrorism." He predicts the conflict will end "within
Heavy fighting was reported in parts of the northeast, as
government troops close in on the last-remaining holdouts of ethnic Tamil
rebels, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The reports cannot be
independently verified because Sri Lanka's government has barred reporters from
entering conflict areas.
The United Nations says recent fighting has
taken a bloody toll on the region's civilian population, killing at least 52
civilians and wounding at least 80 others, in the past two days. Aid agencies
say about 250,000 people are trapped in the fighting. Sri Lanka's government
says that figure is exaggerated.
Rebels blamed for attack on hospital
Aid groups operating in
the area said at least 14 people have been killed during repeated attacks on a
hospital in rebel-held territory. Sri Lankan forces had been criticized for
bombing the hospital. But Sri Lankan military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara blames
LTTE fighters for the attacks.
"We know the exact location of that
hospital," the spokesman said. "Definitely, the LTTE has fired at that location.
And, this [is] kind of arranged [by the LTTL], where they have videoed
everything and fired at the location and given it to media. This is the kind of
terrorist organization we are fighting with."
The United States, the
European Union and other countries have urged the LTTE to lay down its weapons
and called for a cease-fire from the Sri Lankan government to allow civilians to
flee the war zone. But Sri Lankan forces have vowed to fight on.
the war began in 1983, about 70,000 people have been killed, many of them