Sri Lanka's Civil War Could End Soon

Sri Lankan government claims it is close to defeating the Tamil Tiger rebels.

ByABC News
January 30, 2009, 10:52 AM

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jan 30, 2009— -- After nearly three decades of fighting, the Sri Lankan government is convinced Asia's longest-running civil war could soon be over.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in this battle between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Government officials told ABC News that they are on the verge of crushing the remaining rebel forces in and around Mullaittivu in the northeast part of the country, where the majority of Tamils live.

They say the fighting has reached a climax in recent weeks.

"The war will be over very soon," said Keheliya Rambukwella, government spokesman for national security and defense. "We believe [the rebels] are left with only 1,000 or 500 forces at the most."

The rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have been fighting since 1983 to secure a separate homeland for the ethnic minority Hindu Tamils, whom they believe are treated like second-class citizens in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist Sinhalese government has strongly denied this claim.

Despite a "war free zone" created by the government, hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured during this final push as the Sri Lankan military closed in on the rebels in the north of the country.

Aid agencies said 250,000 people are trapped inside the battle zone, and concern for their safety has grown.

The government ended a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire agreement in January 2008 and has been waging a steady war with the Tamils ever since.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said hundreds have been killed or wounded in fighting since last week.

"There is no cease-fire. We have given notice to the LTTE that Sri Lankan citizens whom they are forcibly keeping in the war zone must be let go," Disaster and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said in a press conference.

On Thursday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a statement that the government promised safe passage to all civilians, and he urged the Liberation Tigers to let them go within 48 hours.

Sri Lankan and international officials have criticized the conduct of both sides in this conflict.