Tiger rebel death toll rises to 480: Sri Lanka military

COLOMBO, April 6, 2009 (AFP) - Sri Lankan security forces have found 60 more bodies of Tamil Tiger rebels, raising the toll from four days of close-quarter combat in the island's northeast to 480, military officials said Monday.

Troops recovered the bodies from Puthukkudiriruppu area which was brought under control of the security forces on Sunday, a military official said.

"A total of 480 Tiger bodies have been recovered in the past four days," a military official said. "We believe more Tigers may have been killed and wounded."

Sri Lankan Tamil Tiger defector Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, better known as Colonel Karuna (L) hoists the national Lion flag in Colombo on April 4, ahead of assuming duties as Minister of National Integration. Karuna who defected from the main Tamil Tiger rebel group in March 2004, has become member of Sri Lanka's ruling party and a key ally of the government which says is about to completely defeat the Tamil Tiger separatists (AFP photo)

There was no immediate comment from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

President Mahinda Rajapakse told party supporters at his tightly-guarded Temple Trees residence here on Sunday that the military was on the verge of wiping out the Tigers after decades of bitter fighting.

"The option for the Tiger leadership is to lay down arms and surrender and save the lives of the remaining cadres," the president said.

Rajapakse, who is also the commander in chief of the armed forces, has rejected calls for a truce and insisted that the Tigers must capitulate and allow civilians in areas still under their control to leave.

The Tigers have been encircled for months in a 20-square kilometre (eight square mile) strip of coastal jungle which the government has designated as a "safe zone" for tens of thousands of trapped civilians.

At the height of the Tigers' power in the mid-1990s, they controlled more than a third of the total land mass of Sri Lanka in their fight for an independent Tamil homeland.

Concern for the safety of non-combatants has mounted, with international calls for a pause in the fighting to allow them to escape.

Sri Lanka, which pulled out of a Norwegian-arranged truce in January last year, has said for months that its forces were on the verge of dealing a final blow to the Tigers.

Source: AFP

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