Prabhakaran still in war zone: Report

Last Updated: Mon, May 18, 2009 08:54 hrs

Colombo: The leader of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels is still holed up in the northeast of the island along with 2,000 fighters and thousands more injured civilians, a rebel official was quoted as saying on Sunday.

In a telephonic interview with Britain's Channel 4 news, the rebels' chief of international relations said veteran guerrilla leader Velupillai Prabhakaran wanted to stop the war and start a peace process.

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Selvarasa Pathmanathan, who Channel 4 said was speaking from an undisclosed location in South East Asia, said the Tigers were "ready to lay down arms and participate in the peace process."

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There are "less than 2000 cadres... We prepared to stop the war. Our people are dying. Every hour more than a hundred dying. More than 3,000 die from yesterday. 25,000 wounded," he told the channel.

"From yesterday we are calling on talks to stop the fighting and (for) immediate ceasefire. We are ready to lay down the arms and participate in the peace process. Yes we'd like to end this war," he said.

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"Prabhakaran actually ordered that. For four hours I talked to him -- he passed this message to Sri Lanka Government and international players, and we are waiting for their answer," he added.

Previous offers from the Tamil Tigers to return to peace talks have been rejected by the government.

According to the Sri Lankan military, the remnants of the Tamil Tiger army are surrounded in less than one square kilometre (half a square mile) of jungle. The government says all civilians have also left the area.

The island's President has declared the Tigers to be "defeated militarily," and a statement earlier Sunday from the rebel spokesman said they were laying down their arms.

But there has been widespread speculation over the whereabouts of the rebel leader, amid reports and rumour that he may have committed suicide or already fled.

The defence ministry said on Sunday that its advancing troops had so far found no trace of him.

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