Sri Lankan Military Fights To Surround Reeling Tamil Tigers

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's military said it took control of the island's entire coastline Saturday and cut off any sea escape for Tamil Tiger leaders trapped in a tiny slice of remaining rebel territory.

The latest military success came after President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that his soldiers would end the island's bloody civil war in 48 hours, a deadline that ends Saturday.

Two army divisions moving along the island's northeastern coast linked up at the coastal village of Vellamullivaikkal to deny the rebels sea access for the first time in its quarter-century separatist insurgency, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The rebels and tens of thousands of civilians are cornered in a tiny 1.2-square mile (3.1-square kilometer) strip between a lagoon and the sea.

International concern has grown for civilians under threat from artillery bombardments shaking the war zone, and the Red Cross has warned of "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe" for the hundreds of wounded trapped without treatment.

Hoping to end the bloodshed, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent his chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, to Sri Lanka for a second time to try to bring the conflict to a peaceful conclusion.

The U.N. says 7,000 civilians were killed and 16,700 wounded in the fighting from Jan. 20 until May 7, according to a U.N. document given to The Associated Press by a senior diplomat.

Since then, doctors in the war zone say more than 1,000 civilians were killed in a week of heavy shelling that rights groups and foreign governments have blamed on Sri Lankan forces. Sri Lanka denies firing heavy weapons into the war zone.