By C. Bryson Hull
COLOMBO, May 16 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops seized the entire coastline of the Indian Ocean island for the first time since civil war with the Tamil Tiger separatists erupted in 1983, signalling a rapidly approaching conventional victory.
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Here are some scenarios of what could happen next:
MILITARY DECLARES VICTORY: No outcome could be more certain. The only question is when. There are more than 50,000 soldiers surrounding fewer than 1,000 hardcore Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters in a coastal speck measuring barely a square km (.5 sq miles), roughly a third of the area of New York’s Central Park. Though the LTTE is exceptionally well-armed, they are no match for a military strengthened and custom-built to destroy them.
CIVILIANS KILLED: Of this, there is little doubt. The only question is how many. There are an estimated 50,000 in the sweltering coastal strip, packed in a sea of makeshift tents. The United States and U.N. Security Council has accused the government of indiscriminate shelling and the LTTE of shooting those who try to escape their role as the rebels’ human shields. Both deny the accusations. Analysts have warned that the LTTE could carry out a mass suicide attack with the aim of killing hundreds if not thousands of civilians, and then blame it on the military. That could then be used to galvanise the global Tamil diaspora to fund a new war.
THE FATE OF TIGER LEADER PRABHAKARAN: The Tigers and the military say LTTE founder-leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran is in the war zone. But no one has given definitive proof, and Prabhakaran has proved elusive over his three-decade militant career. Vehicles discovered by troops — a mini-submarine, a long metal chamber thought to be an underwater escape tunnel and aircraft parts — seem to suggest that Prabhakaran was planning an escape worthy of characters in the action films biographers say he enjoys. Most analysts agree that Prabhakaran, alive or dead, will keep his fate a mystery. The government’s best hope is to get his body, dead or alive. Since he is reported to have ordered bodyguards to burn his body if he is near capture, that seems unlikely.
IMF LOAN BLOCKED: Although Washington has raised this as a possibility to pressure Sri Lanka’s government, IMF director Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s comments on Friday seemed to suggest it would come through soon. [ID:nLF83085] The United States could block the loan, but diplomats say this is unlikely and the U.N. Security Council has said it views using the loan to punish Colombo as unnecessary.
WAR CRIMES INQUIRIES? The United Nations rights chief has backed calls from Britain for an independent inquiry into possible war crimes or violations of humanitarian law. Diplomats have in the past said this is unlikely to happen, given that China and Russia are sympathetic to Sri Lanka’s fight against separatists. (Editing by Alex Richardson)