New Delhi: The Sri Lankan army has started closing in on whatever is left of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) territory after the deadline set by the Sri Lankan government for the Tamil Tigers to surrender expired on Tuesday.
Sri Lankan army says they have restricted LTTE chief V Prabhakaran to a 10-square kilometre area.
But it is the humanitarian crisis that is now the big challenge in the island nation.
Around 50,000 civilians have fled the no war zone with the Unicef saying over 1 lakh civilians are trapped in a 14-kilometre stretch between fighting armymen and LTTE.
The army has entered the no war zone hunting for Prabhakaran and the Sri Lanka government claims the LTTE rebels are holding civilian refugees as hostages.
On the other hand the LTTE is accusing the Sri Lankan army of killing 1,000 civilians, using them as human shields.
Even as close to 50,000 people escaped the clutches of LTTE, Sri Lankan Army's 58 Division soldiers entered the 17-square km no-fire zone. The soldiers breached an earth bund meant to trap civilians allowing thousands to flee.
"Yes, I saw them shooting at us. All those boats firing at us are LTTE boats. It is from there that they are shooting," said a fleeing Tamil civilian.
"The Sri Lankan army was asking us to come but we couldn't go. If the army can break the line, then people can come out. They were telling us we would have no safety on the Sri Lanka army side but now we are happy," said another civilian.
By Tuesday noon the deadline was over but Prabhakaran was still at large with the LTTE claiming that he has been leading from the front.
"LTTE will never surrender. Prabhakaran is with us and he is directing the war against the Sri Lankan armed forces," LTTE Peace Secretariat Secretary-General Seevaratnam Puleedevan said.
The army has moved in carrying out a two pronged assault in 10-square kms of the no-fire zone strip.
Forces have already come in from Pudumaathalan and Valainarmadam, and even captured a hospital in the LTTE-held territory.
It may soon be all over for the elusive chief, but he isn't planning an easy surrender.
Sources say 10,000 to 15,000 young men have been given a crash course in Vavuniya by the LTTE to fight the army in the final assault. Thousands of landmines still await army boots.
Even as global fears of a humanitarian crisis grow, Sri Lanka is all set for its final battle in the 25-year-old war. With hardly any muscle left and the human shield gone, Prabhakaran may be deserted by his own men before it is all over.