COLOMBO, Sri Lanka Sri Lanka's president declared victory Saturday in his nation's quarter century civil war with the Tamil Tigers rebels. But the group's top leaders remained at large as troops and the cornered insurgents fought fierce battles across the war zone.

A triumph on the battlefield appeared inevitable after government forces captured the last bit of coastline under rebel control early Saturday, surrounding the remaining fighters in a 1.2-square mile (3.1-square kilometer) patch of land.

Thousands of civilians who had been trapped by the fighting poured across the front lines, the military said.

"My government, with the total commitment of our armed forces, has in an unprecedented humanitarian operation finally defeated the LTTE militarily," President Mahinda Rajapaksa said referring to the rebels by their formal name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

"I will be going back to a country that has been totally freed from the barbaric acts of the LTTE," he said in a speech in Jordan that was distributed to the media in Sri Lanka.

The rebels, who once controlled a de facto state across much of the north, have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils after decades of marginalization by the Sinhalese majority. Responsible for hundreds of suicide attacks including the 1991 assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi the Tamil Tigers have been branded terrorists by the U.S., E.U. and India and shunned internationally.

The rebels also controlled a conventional army, with artillery units, a significant navy and even a tiny air force.

After repeated stalemates on the battlefield, the military broke through the rebel lines last year and forced the insurgents into a broad retreat, capturing their administrative capital at Kilinochchi in January and vowing to retake control over the rest of the country.

The rebels have insisted that if they are defeated in conventional battle, they will return to their guerrilla roots.
Sri Lanka president declares victory in civil war

Sri Lankan rebel leader 'is dead'
he leader of the Tamil Tiger rebels, Velupillai Prabhakaran, is dead, the Sri Lankan military has said.

The announcement on state television came shortly after the military said it had surrounded Prabhakaran in a tiny patch of jungle in the north-east.

The claim cannot be verified as reporters are barred from the war zone.

The head of the Sri Lankan army Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka said the military had defeated the rebels and "liberated the entire country".

"Today we finished the work handed to us by the president to liberate the country from the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)," he said in the broadcast.

Sri Lankan forces had routed the rebels in the past few weeks, over-running their territory and bringing the 26-year war to its conclusion.
BBC NEWS | Special Reports | Sri Lankan rebel leader 'is dead'

Sri Lanka is preparing for a major celebration following the battlefield defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, ending a quarter-century civil war. Joyous outbursts that are mixed with some lingering anxiety, especially among the minority Tamils who wonder what the new era will bring for them.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped off his aircraft, on his return from Jordan, to the cheers of supporters who hailed him as a national hero.

On the streets of Colombo, some people hoisted the Sri Lankan flag and set off firecrackers in celebration.

After word came that the rebels had announced their guns would finally gone silent in the northeast, young people celebrated in the backs of slowly moving vehicles along the famous Galle Face seaside boulevard.

But there are no signs, yet, of any mass celebration. A national victory speech by the president is anticipated Monday with a declaration of a national holiday.
VOA News - Sri Lanka Readies for Major National Celebration Following Rebel Defeat

Pretty significant event.