Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said Saturday that his country had defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels on the battlefield and emerged victorious from its quarter century civil war. "My government, with the total commitment of our armed forces, has in an unprecedented humanitarian operation finally defeated the LTTE militarily," he 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 at an international gathering in Jordan that was distributed to the media in Sri Lanka. The military reported that fighting continued to rage in the war zone along the northeast coast. Huge explosions could be heard across the battlefield as rebels detonated their ammunition stocks and artillery dumps, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. On Saturday morning, troops seized control of the island's entire coastline for the first time in decades, sealing the Tamil Tigers in a tiny pocket of territory and cutting off the possibility of a sea escape by the rebels' top leaders, the military said. The rebels, who once ran a de facto state across the north, had controlled a formidable navy and sea smuggling operation. Thousands of civilians fled intense shelling in the 1.2-square mile (3.1-square kilometer) patch of land still under rebel control. More than 23,000 civilians have fled since Thursday, Nanayakkara said. Government forces have been hunting for the reclusive Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and his top deputies for months, but it was unclear if they remained in rebel territory or had already fled overseas. On the verge of battlefield defeat, the rebels reiterated their calls for the government to cease its offensive and restart talks to resolve the long-standing ethnic conflict between the minority Tamils and the Sinhalese majority. Selvarasa Pathmanathan, in charge of the rebels' international relations department, said the group welcomed President Barack Obama's call Wednesday for a peaceful end to the conflict and would do "anything that is necessary" to spare the civilians. However, he did not specifically say whether the rebels would accede to Obama's request to lay down their arms and surrender.