Sri Lanka Tiger chief unlikely to surrender: defence chief
Tiger chief might use human smuggling ring to flee by boat. -AFP
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA ? Sri Lanka's elusive Tamil Tiger leader is not expected to surrender despite having lost his de-facto state, but may try to flee by boat, the country's top defence official said on Tuesday.
Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran, 54, could use a human smuggling ring to escape by sea, Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse told AFP in an interview at his tightly-guarded sea-front office.
He accused the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of holding an estimated 70,000 civilians as a "shield" for Prabhakaran and senior aides to get away.
Sri Lanka's navy and air force had stepped up surveillance and tightened a sea blockade but the guerrillas could still use small boats to smuggle themselves out, he said.
"They can try to escape by boat although we have a big naval blockade," Rajapakse said. "It is a difficult task but there is a possibility they will be able to do it."
"He is still there (in the country). I don't see why he should commit suicide or surrender. After fighting for over 30 years, I don't think he will take the cyanide capsule. He will try to escape."
Rajapakse said the Tigers were preventing civilians from leaving the narrow 75-square-kilometre (28-square-mile) area still under their control to ensure no heavy weapons would be fired into the area.
"He (Prabhakaran) must be looking at human smuggling operations to get out of the country," he said, adding that the rotund rebel chieftain may try to get a new identity and hide overseas.
"That is a viable option for him. After Prabhakaran escapes with about 40 or 50 of his senior men, the Tigers will allow civilians to leave (the conflict zone)," he said.
Rajapakse, who is credited with spearheading the military campaign which effectively smashed the mini state of the Tigers earlier this year, said junior level Tigers and their other combatants could give themselves up.
"The more sensible option for the LTTE (junior level cadres) is to ask for an amnesty and surrender," said Rajapakse who is also the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, who has vowed to crush the Tigers after 37 years of fighting.
The defence secretary's comments came as government troops advanced on the last urban area in the north still in the hands of the Tamil rebels who have been fighting for a separate state since 1972.
Rajapakse said the military campaign against the Tigers had slowed in recent days out of consideration for civilians and the fighting was concentrated in areas where there were no civilians.
"There cannot be a single civilian casualty now because we are not using artillery and other long range weapons," he said. "If someone has a gunshot injury now, it is something that happened in the frontlines. There are no civilians there."
International concern has mounted for the safety of civilians trapped in the conflict zone, with the UN leading calls for a halt in the fighting to allow civilians to get out.
Rajapakse said civilians could still leave through a stretch of coastline that had been designated by the military as a "no fire zone".
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been using the area to get wounded civilians out.
"What the international community can do is put pressure on the Tigers to release the civilians," he said. "A ceasefire is irrelevant because we already have the ICRC evacuating the wounded from the coast where there is no firing." -AFP
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