Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sri Lankan rebel leader missing as thousands flee war

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The stream of civilians fleeing Sri Lanka's war zone picked up speed and air force jets killed 11 guerrillas in a strike that left the leader of the Tamil Tigers' naval wing missing, the military said on Saturday.

More than 50,000 soldiers are converging on a tiny wedge of jungle in the Indian Ocean island's northeast to crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists and end one of Asia's longest-running wars.

With rebel territory fast shrinking, the hunt is on for Tiger leaders including the elusive Vellupillai Prabhakaran, the man who founded the group that turned the suicide bomb into a weapon of war and landed on numerous international terrorism lists.

Fighters bombed a complex of bunkers with an apartment and communications dishes on Friday, killing at least 11 rebels, air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said.

Initial reports said it may have been a Prabhakaran hideout, but later was found to be an operational base for the LTTE's "Sea Tigers" naval wing and its chief, Soosai, he said.

"Intelligence reports say the whereabouts of Soosai is not known. He is now missing," Nanayakkara said.

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