In a major success, Sri Lankan troops captured the last rebel bastion of Pudukudiriyirippu in the island's embattled north where they killed at least 420 cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in fierce fighting, the military said on Sunday.
Bodies of 420 rebels killed in intense clashes with advancing troops in the past three days have been recovered from the war zone, military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said.
He said the army has captured the entire Pudukudiriyirippu area that was under the control of the Tamil Tigers, who have lost many of their key leaders in the latest fighting.
Important LTTE leaders killed in the clashes included Vidusha, Nagesh, Durga, Deepan and Patabi, Nanayakkara said, adding another senior rebel leader Banu was injured.
Unconfirmed reports, meanwhile, said that the LTTE has taken hostage all civilians in the 20 square km-long 'No Fire Zone'.
"The remaining LTTE cadres are now facing a total annihilation as the soldiers are engaged in a man-to-man combat against them," the military said.
At least 100 rebels were killed during Saturday's fighting alone, according to the battlefield reports. Soldiers managed to retrieve bodies of all rebels who were killedon Saturday, Nanayakkara said.
Defence sources, citing soldiers from the frontline, said there were dozens more bodies of the LTTE cadres lying scattered in the forward areas.
Troops earlier on Wednesday divided the remaining LTTE fighting cadres into several isolated groups and surrounded them separately, the Defence Ministry said.
According to defence sources, security forces asked the trapped LTTE cadres to surrender, before launching the military onslaught against them.
"We called them to surrender via their (LTTE) radio frequencies, but they were ordered to fight to their death by the LTTE leadership," a senior ground commander said.
Asked why the LTTE cadres chose to do so, he said that they had no other option. "Their family members are held hostage by the LTTE leadership in the No-Fire Zone.
"In reality, they (LTTE) were not only ordered to fight to their death, but also ordered to not even think about coming back to NFZ alive if they had any love for their family members there," he said.
"We heard them pleading to the LTTE leadership to let them withdraw before we attacked them, but their request was not granted," the ministry quoted the commander as saying.
According to sources, all senior LTTE leaders are now hiding in the No Fire Zone, a small stretch of land where the rebels are now confined to after losing Pudukuduriyirippu, and are holding civilians as protective shields.