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Sri Lankan rebels cornered in 'no-fire zone'

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The Tamil Tiger rebels have abandoned their last stronghold and fled to a tiny "no-fire zone" on the northeast coast of Sri Lanka, according to the island-nation's defense ministry.

There, tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped by the conflict, which now appears headed toward a final reckoning. (See map of the area with this BBC story.)

Sri Lanka's Daily News reported that the top leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam (LTTE), including Velupillai Prabhakaran, fled their stronghold just before Sri Lankan troops closed in. The paper reported that Tiger commanders abandoned their luxury bungalows, a bullet-proof limousine, and other vehicles.

The Indian newspaper The Hindu reported that top Tiger leaders had been killed in recent fighting, citing Sri Lankan Defense Ministry claims based on "intercepted enemy communication."

The BBC says there are some 40,000 to 100,000 civilians in the 20 square km (12.5 mile) coastal area, where the surviving rebels are now holed up. It quoted the United Nations as saying that nearly 3,000 civilians may have been killed and 7,000 others injured in the last two months. The Sri Lankan government denies that.

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