Sri Lanka army slows offensive against Tigers

March 31, 2009 (AFP) – Two months after President Mahinda Rajapakse vowed that the Tamil Tiger rebels would be defeated within days, fighting rages on in Sri Lanka at the cost of escalating military, rebel and civilian lives. Government forces who were advancing into Liberation Tigers’ of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) territory at the rate of more than a kilometre (0.6 miles) a day have slowed to a snail’s pace.

With the rebels now cornered in a tiny but densely populated strip of coastal jungle measuring just 21 square kilometres (eight square miles), the military has been struggling to deliver the final blow.

The army says the Tigers have fewer than 500 fighters left, but those that remain appear to be offering stiff resistance.

“It is a matter of life and death for the Tigers and that is why they are ferociously fighting back,” said former Tiger militant-turned-politician Dharmalingam Sithadthan.

“They are also using a human shield very effectively.”

United Nations and other foreign aid organisations say as many as 150,000 civilians may be trapped in the combat zone, although the Sri Lankan government insists the figure is less than half that.

Military officials say the proximity of the two si