As suspense grows about the whereabouts of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran after the capture of the last bastion of the outfit, the Sri Lankan army chief on Monday said he believed the guerrilla leader could be in an underground bunker or in the no-fire zone.
During his discussions with United States ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake, Sarath Fonseka opined that Prabhakaran might be hiding either inside the NFZ or in an underground hideout. He also told the top US diplomat that the troops are well-prepared for receiving more and more civilians, who are fleeing the rebel territory into government-held areas, an official statement said.
It is widely believed that both Prabhakaran and his son Charles Anthony could be in the 20 sq km no-fire zone, where the rebel remnants are said to be holed up after they were pushed out of their last stronghold of Pudukudiyirippu by the Sri Lankan troops.
During his discussions with Blake at the army headquarters in Colombo, Fonseka gave him an update on the status of the military offensive in the deep north and east of Pudukudiyirippu, which is nearing completion.
Fonseka said the exodus of civilians could be expected at any moment from now onwards in view of the prevailing ground situation in the NFZ. It is estimated that some 70,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in the narrow coastal strip.
The envoy was also told that a considerable number of middle-rung Tamil Tiger leaders are dead and their organisation has virtually been paralysed, unable to sustain the military onslaught any longer.
Suspense about the whereabouts of Prabhakaran and LTTE second-in-command Pottu Amman has been growing since the rebels lost Pudukudiyirippu. In January, Sri Lankan forces captured one of the command bunkers used by the elusive Tamil Tiger supremo in the thick forests of Dharmapuram town in Mullaittivu.
The bunker, which was then described by the Lankan forces as a prize discovery, was camouflaged as an ordinary peasant hut, but had all the trappings of a command headquarters.
The bunker, which had given a clue on the living style of the LTTE chief, had a concrete bomb-proof roofing and was fully air-conditioned. The bunker had been built inside a civilian settlement, among the houses of poor villagers.