Colombo: Sri Lanka on Monday announced that "combat operations have reached their conclusion" and will immediately stop using air strikes and heavy weapons in the war zone, a statement India interpreted as cessation of hostilities in the ongoing offensive against the LTTE.
"The Government of Sri Lanka has decided that combat operations have reached their conclusion. Our security forces have been instructed to end the use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties. Our security forces will confine their attempts to rescuing civilians who are held hostage and give foremost priority to saving the civilians," a statement from the President Mahinda Rajapakse's Office said.
Interestingly, the Sri Lankan statement was read out by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, who went on a sudden fast in Chennai, when he quoted Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, before it was made public in Colombo.
NO WAY OUT: Sri Lankan forces claim Prabhakaran cannot escape using the sea route.
It was not clear whether the Sri Lankan troops will stop their offensive against the LTTE, which has confined to a five sq. km strip of coastal land in Mullaitivu.
While Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayyakara said operations to rescue the trapped civilians are on, the troops will meet with the situation in case of resistance from the LTTE.
However, the LTTE described the Sri Lankan announcement as an attempt to deceive the international community, including the people of Tamil Nadu.
Senior LTTE leader S Puleedevan claimed between 1250 and 1310 hrs Sri Lankan jets had carried out attacks on Mu'l'li-vaaykkaal.
While the Tamil Tigers claimed that 160,000 civilians are trapped in the last area held by them, the UN has put the number at 50,000 and the government between 10,000-15,000.
Pro-LTTE website TamilNet.com said the area under threat had no cover from bombs, shells and bullets, apparently indicating that the people who were close to the beach.
Reacting to the Sri Lankan statement, Chidambaram said in Chennai: "It means cessation of hostilities.It means to the government of India that the Sri Lankan government has put an end to the ongoing offensive."
Earlier, the Sri Lankan government said it was continuing with its march to capture remaining the areas in the 'No Fire Zone' south of Amplavanpokkanai in Mullaitivu. It said at least 32 LTTE cadres were killed and 53 rebels surrendered on Monday.
Sri Lankan soldiers engaged in the world's largest hostage rescue mission yesterday freed 3,254 civilians from the clutches of LTTE.
The group included a large number of LTTE child soldiers, the MCNS said.
SRI LANKA TIMELINE
Heavy fighting had started since 2002 when the LTTE carried a spate of suicide attacks across the country. Following the attacks government operations against the LTTE saw a surge after 2005 when President Rajapakse came to power.
Peace talks in Geneva failed and 2007 onwards, the government started capturing Eastern strongholds of the LTTE. But situation became worse in January 2008 when the Sri Lankan government annuled the ceasefire and resumed its operations. Norway then said it would not be able to mediate any further.
The army then went on to capture LTTE's major naval bases in the north.
The final offensive began in January this year when the army captured major LTTE held towns all across the North and north-east including the LTTE headquarter town of Killinochhi. The army had already captured crucial Paranthan and Elephant passes.
The LTTE confined to the coastal town of Mullaitivu and the Wanni jungles. Mullaitivu was also captured and by April, the fighting was confined to the 18 sq km no-fire zone where Prabhakaran and his aide are believed to be holed up.
Since January 2009, close to 2 Lakh people have been displaced, over 5,000 killed and 3,000 LTTE cadres have surrendered.
WHERE IS PRABHAKARAN?