Thursday, February 5, 2009

CNN World Headline News - President: Rebel defeat has united Sri Lanka

(CNN) -- Sri Lanka's president declared Wednesday that the country's Tamil insurgents are on the verge of total defeat, saying their demise has helped unite the island nation on the 61st anniversary of its independence.

"We are today a nation that has defeated a powerful enemy that stood before us," Mahinda Rajapaksa said in his independence day speech. "Our entire nation is now united in the shade of the national flag."

But in other parts of his speech, Rajapaksa indicated that the fight against the Tamil Tiger rebels was not over.

"I am confident that in a few days we will decisively defeat the terrorist force that many repeatedly kept saying was invincible," he said.

In another part of the speech, he said, government forces over the past two and a half years have "been able ... to almost completely defeat" the rebel forces.

Government troops and Tamil rebels are locked in a battle for the remaining rebel strongholds in the north of Sri Lanka, where the the country's ethnic Tamil minority has been fighting for an independent homeland since 1983.

Humanitarian groups say as many as 250,000 unprotected civilians are trapped in the area where the fighting is taking place, and the onslaught has intensified as government forces have closed in on the rebels.

Aid agencies have asked for increased access to the region, calling conditions in northern Sri Lanka a nightmarish situation.

The fighting has forced the closure of Pudukkudiyiruppu hospital in the Vanni region, the last functioning medical facility in the conflict zone.