Sat, Jan 03, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Rebel capital captured, Sri Lanka president says

DEFIANT While the public celebrated the president's announcement, the Tigers struck back with a suicide attack killing two people and injuring 30 in Colombo

AP , COLOMBO

Government forces captured the Tamil Tigers' de facto capital in northern Sri Lanka yesterday, dealing a devastating blow to the rebels' quarter-century fight for an independent state, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa said.

But in a sign the rebels retained their ability to strike back, a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide attacker on a motorcycle detonated a bomb across the street from air force headquarters in the heart of Colombo yesterday afternoon, killing two people, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

Dr Prasad Ariyawansa at the Colombo National Hospital said at least 30 people were injured.

The blast pierced the festive mood that had swept across the capital after the president announced the fall of Kilinochchi in a nationally televised speech.

“Our brave and heroic troops have fully captured 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 Colombo, people lit firecrackers, danced in the streets and waved Sri Lankan flags.

Kilinochchi 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 rebels used the town as their headquarters for the past 10 years and created structures for an independent state, such as a police, courts and tax offices.

But the rebel affiliated TamilNet Web site said the Tamil Tigers had moved their headquarters further to the northeast before the town fell. Kilinochchi does not lie along a key crossroads, or house major rebel bases or armories, and military analysts said its strategic value was not great.

“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 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 US, the EU and other nations have called for a political solution to the crisis, saying that warfare will not resolve the deep, underlying tensions between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities that created the violence in the first place.

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