Sri Lanka says troops have captured rebel capital
By KRISHAN FRANCIS,Associated Press Writer AP - 32 minutes ago
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Government forces captured the Tamil Tigers' de facto capital in northern Sri Lanka on Friday, dealing a devastating blow to the rebels' quarter-century fight for an independent state, the president said.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced the capture of Kilinochchi in a nationally televised speech, and called on the rebels to give up their fight.
"Our brave and heroic troops have fully capture Kilinochchi, which was considered the main bastion of the LTTE," he said, referring to the rebels by their formal name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. "For the last time, I call upon the LTTE to lay down their arms and surrender."
Across the capital of Colombo, people lit firecrackers in celebration and waved Sri Lankan flags.
Strategically, Kilinochchi was not a particularly important target in Sri Lanka's offensive against the rebels. But it held great symbolic value as the center of the Tamil Tigers' de facto state and its capture by government forces for the first time in a decade was sure to badly damage the rebels' morale.
The Tamil Tigers used the town as their political and military headquarters for the past 10 years and created structures for an independent state, such as a police, courts and tax offices.
"No more is this capital of its dream separate state the property of the LTTE," Rajapaksa said.
Rebel officials were not immediately available for comment, but they have said in the past that they would fight on, even if Kilinochchi fell.
The government has predicted repeatedly over the last two months that the town was about to fall. But the rebels built a massive, 17-kilometer- (10.5 mile-) long earth berm and moat fortification, and fierce resistance from the guerrillas and pounding monsoon rains made it difficult for government forces to advance. The battles reportedly killed hundreds of fighters.
Army troops appeared to have cleared the way into the town Thursday when they captured a key crossroad north of Kilinochchi that allowed them to close in from three directions, the military said.
Troops entered Kilinochchi Friday morning, said Lakshman Hulugalle, a military spokesman. Senior military officials said their forces met only minimal resistance once in the town, an apparent sign that the rebels had withdrawn and retreated to their jungle bases, analysts said.
Recent government military offensives have forced the rebels out of much of their territory in the north of the Indian Ocean island nation, and Rajapaksa has promised to crush the rebel group and end the civil war in the new year. The government had previously vowed to end the war by the end of 2008.
Tamil Tiger political leader Balasingham Nadesan told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the rebels began as a guerrilla group and would be able to keep fighting even if they lost much of the territory they controlled in the north.
The rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland in the north and east for Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. The conflict has killed more than 70,000 people.
Since renewed fighting flared three years ago, the government has driven the Tamil Tigers out of their strongholds in the east and forced them to retreat from much of their northern territory.
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