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In Sri Lanka, Quarter-Century of War Ends

Update: Sri Lanka's state television station has announced that Tamil Tiger rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is dead. Earlier media reports said he was killed while trying to flee the war zone early Monday in an ambulance. On Sunday the rebels' international relations chief said in a statement on the Web site TamilNet that their battle has reached "its bitter end." President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared victory on Saturday. | More from VOA News


Transcript of radio broadcast, posted 15 May 2009:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The Sri Lankan army has been leading what it called a "final push" against Tamil Tiger rebels. A military spokesman told VOA that the army hoped to free all civilians trapped in rebel territory by Sunday. The military said troops were moving in from the north and the south on the narrow area of coastline still held by the rebels.

On Friday, the United Nations human rights office called for an investigation of possible war crimes in Sri Lanka. The office said the behavior of the military and the rebels could meet the legal meaning of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A U.N. spokesman expressed concern about reports that government shelling has killed civilians. He also expressed concern over reports of rebels shooting those trying to flee to safety.

This week, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent his top aide to press for an end to the Sri Lankan conflict.

Almost two hundred thousand Tamil civilians in the north have been displaced since fighting intensified in January. Some people have been able to escape across the waters of a lagoon to a government-controlled area. But thousands of civilians reportedly have been killed and many thousands more wounded.

The International Red Cross has described the humanitarian situation as "unimaginable." The Red Cross has been unable to bring in food or remove the wounded and sick from the area of fighting.

Sri Lanka has been seeking a two billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to help its economy. American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this week that this was, in her words, "not an appropriate time to consider" the loan. But I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said Friday that Sri Lanka clearly needs help. Reuters news agency reported that he said the I.M.F. is working to find a solution in the next few weeks.

Sri Lanka is an island of twenty-one million people in the Indian Ocean. Three-fourths are ethnic Sinhalese. The conflict began more than twenty-five years ago, when minority Tamils began fighting for an independent homeland.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam once controlled a large area of the north and east. But now, military officials say the area held by the Tamil Tigers has been reduced to just a few square kilometers of beachfront.

The government says the military offensive is also a hostage rescue operation. It says the rebels are hiding among civilians. On Wednesday, President Obama deplored the rebels' use of civilians as human shields. But he also called on the Sri Lankan government to act responsibly.

There have been reports in recent days that shelling killed hundreds of civilians. On Wednesday, artillery shells hit the only remaining hospital in the area of fighting.

The government promised last month to end its use of heavy weapons. It says the rebels are the ones killing innocent people. The rebels blame the government.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.