Sri Lanka braces for bloodier Tiger battles

February 15, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s government hoped Tamil Tiger rebels could be defeated in days, but both sides are now warning bloodier battles may lie ahead — and civilians are likely to pay a heavy price.

Security forces have cornered the retreating Tigers in the north of the island after over three bloody decades of fighting, the rebels’ de facto state has been smashed and Sri Lanka’s army says there are only 700 guerrillas left.

Only last month it seemed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers, and their often brutal campaign for an independent homeland were all but defeated.

But like on previous occasions when the guerrillas appeared to be on their knees, the government says the Tigers are putting up strong resistance — including using civilians as “human shields.”

They have launched ferocious counter-attacks since the beginning of this month in a bid to regain some of their lost territory and save their remaining heavy weaponry, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse said.

“There were very heavy attacks from the first to the fourth of this month. We suffered casualties,” Rajapakse told the Sinhalese-language Sunday Lankadeepa weekly.

“But we repulsed t