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2 Sri Lanka rebels surrender to army

TWO Tamil Tiger officials surrendered to the Sri Lankan army yesterday and more than 80,000 refugees have fled the war zone that appears to be shrinking by the hour.

The sandy beaches north of the tiny combat zone - which now measures just eight kilometers long - were filled with people carrying their belongings on their backs or in bundles on their heads, according to photos released by the military. Mothers held infants and others carried sick relatives as they reached government territory in boats escorted by the navy.

In a sign that the rebel leadership has begun to feel the military pressure, the rebels' former media spokesman, Velayutham Dayanithi, whose nom de guerre is Daya Master, and an interpreter for the group's political wing, known only as George, turned themselves over to government forces yesterday. The two played prominent roles in talking to the media and foreign diplomats in a now-defunct peace process.

The former spokesman is the most senior rebel official to surrender so far, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. The remaining rebels were still resisting the army's advance.

There were casualties among government troops, but Nanayakkara did not provide details.

The United Nations and humanitarian groups called for an immediate stop to the fighting so more civilians could escape. Over the past three days, the military says, more than 80,000 have fled after forces broke through a key rebel embankment protecting their territory.

The government has ignored calls to stop the fighting, saying for weeks it was on the verge of crushing the rebels as troops ousted them from their former strongholds and hemmed them into a tiny strip of coastal land.

The government had previously deemed that area a "no fire" zone to protect civilians.

But troops broke through the embankment, entered the zone and captured part of it during fighting on Monday and Tuesday.

At least 43 rebels were killed, Nanayakkara said.


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