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Sri Lanka says troops capture rebel capital
Fri Jan 2, 2009 6:10am EST
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By Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops have captured the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels' headquarters town of Kilinochchi after months of fighting, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said on Friday.
Troops fought their way into Kilinochchi in one of the biggest blows for the rebels in years.
"We should pay the gratitude of the whole nation to those heroic soldiers who achieved that victory," Rajapaksa said in a nationally televised address.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have been fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the east and north of the island for a quarter of a century, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sri Lanka's military has been closing in on Kilinochchi since September. Over the past month, it has been assaulting Tiger defenses encircling the town and both sides have claimed to have inflicted ever higher death tolls on the other.
Sources from Rajapaksa's office earlier told Reuters that troops had entered Kilinochchi from two locations and that fighting with rebels was going on.
"Troops are inside the town and they are mopping up things here and there," said a military source who asked not to be identified.
State media said the military had surrounded Kilinochchi and that many rebels had fled.
Defense analysts said the fall of Kilinochchi would be a bitter blow for the LTTE.
"This is a major defeat for the LTTE. The fall of Kilinochchi means the LTTE will have their only territory in Mullaitivu," said Iqbal Athas, a Defense analyst with Jane's Defense, referring to a rebel stronghold in the northeast.
"I would not say this is the end of the war, but it may be the beginning of the shrinking of major LTTE dominated areas."
Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, a political analyst, said Kilinochchi was significant for the LTTE's political and administrative activities.
"The capture indicates very clearly that the LTTE's attempt to build up a quasi-state has now collapsed," he said.
Exactly a year ago, Rajapaksa's government formally scrapped an increasingly tattered six-year truce brokered by Norway, saying the rebels were using it as cover to regroup and re-arm.
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