Sri Lanka's military captures key rebel town
By RAVI NESSMAN,Associated Press Writer AP - 17 minutes ago
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - Government troops captured a strategic Tamil Tiger-held town Monday and moved closer to a key rebel base, as Sri Lankans raised flags and held a moment of silence to honor the military as it battles to end the country's 25-year-old civil war.
Government forces have won a string of stunning victories over the rebels in recent months, forcing them to withdraw from much of the de facto state they once controlled in the north. On Friday, troops took control of the rebels' administrative capital, Kilinochchi, dealing a harsh blow to the insurgents' hopes of establishing a separate state for ethnic Tamils.
The rebels, as well has hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting, are now confined to a jungle area slightly larger than the city of Los Angeles.
In honor of the troops and of those slain in the war, the government held flag-raising ceremonies across the country and called for two minutes of silence, even as the military pressed ahead with its attacks.
"Day by day, the Tigers' territory is shrinking and their numbers are dwindling. The objective of finishing this war won't be that long off," said Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias, who commanded the battle for Kilinochchi.
Troops on Monday took control of the town of Oddusudan, which sits at an important crossroads leading to the rebel town of Mullaittivu, according to military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara.
Fighter jets and helicopter gunships bombed rebel positions in Mullaittivu in support of army troops fighting against the rebels, a military statement said. It did not provide details of damage of casualties, but said "targets were accurately engaged."
Soldiers also moved closer to capturing the Elephant Pass stronghold, a strategic chokepoint just south of the government-controlled Jaffna peninsula, the military said.
Seizing Elephant Pass would cut off the rebels' heavily fortified front line on the peninsula from the rest of their remaining territory, allowing troops to attack the guerrillas manning those fortifications from behind.
Rebels could not be reached for comment on the fighting.
However, the rebel-affiliated TamilNet Web site reported that the insurgents stalled a military advance Sunday on the road to Mullaittivu, killing 53 soldiers and wounding 80 others.
The military gave no figures for its own casualties.
Independent confirmation of the fighting was not available because the military usually bars journalists from the war zone.
On Sunday, however, the military brought some reporters on a victory tour of the Kilinochchi area, where they watched tanks rumble north to the war zone, attack helicopters fly overhead and heard artillery fire roar through the jungles.
Special forces with rifles and grenade launchers prepared to head to battle as well.
In Kilinochchi itself, nearly every building was missing its roof, and many of the structures were badly damaged, presumably from airstrikes and artillery barrages.
The town, and the main highway running through what was once the rebel heartland, were nearly deserted, except for some stray dogs and abandoned cows.
Army teams waved land mine detectors over the road bed and dug up the middle of the main A-9 highway searching for booby traps left behind by the fleeing rebels.
The rebels have been fighting since 1983 to create an independent homeland for Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization by governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. The conflict has killed more than 70,000 people.
Recommend this article
Average (0 votes)
Sign in to recommend this article »
Most Recommended Stories »
Related Articles: Asia Pacific
Sri Lanka's military captures key rebel townAP - 15 minutes ago
Cigarette butt found in Eu Yan Sang herbsChannel NewsAsia - 55 minutes ago
Families of 2 Singaporeans killed in pub blaze in BangkokChannel NewsAsia - 1 hour 7 minutes ago
1 in 5 considering leaving Hong Kong due to pollution: surveyAFP - 2 hours 20 minutes ago
Nepali students protest religious appointmentsAP - 2 hours 34 minutes ago
Most Popular – Asia Pacific
US steel industry in collapse, eyes government aid: report
Israeli army moves on Gaza City as war toll passes 510
France leads alarm over Gaza, splits with US
Rare Bugatti untouched for 50 years could fetch millions: report
John Travolta's teenage son dies, autopsy planned
View Complete List »