Fri, Jul 13, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Tamil Tigers lose key stronghold, use guerrilla operations

AFP , COLOMBO

Tamil Tiger rebels have admitted losing a key stronghold in eastern Sri Lanka to government forces and said they would revert to guerrilla tactics in the troubled region.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters melted away from Thoppigala, a mountainous jungle area they dominated for over 13 years, rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiriyan told the BBC.

Tamil forces who remained in the east had gone into "guerrilla" mode, he said, adding that "winning the war was not about taking control of real estate."

Sri Lanka's government claimed on Wednesday it had captured the "nerve center" and last remaining Tamil Tiger stronghold in the eastern district of Batticaloa following months of intense combat.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse paid tribute to troops for the advance, which coincided with a fresh effort by peace broker Norway to pull Colombo and the ethnic Tamil rebels out of a worsening spiral of violence.

"I join the people in offering tribute and all good wishes to the members of the armed forces, police and the Special Task Force who ... captured the last stronghold of the terrorists located at Thoppigala," the president said.

Senior military commanders maintained that they would focus on the rebels' mini-state in the north of the country after neutralizing the Tigers in the east of the country.

Norwegian ambassador Hans Brattskar, who is to leave Sri Lanka shortly, returned from the northern Tiger bastion of Kilinochchi on Wednesday after failing to clinch a deal on restarting peace talks, diplomats said.

The LTTE had previously said they will not resume discussions unless government forces halt their military campaign. Fighting across Sri Lanka has worsened since the breakdown of a 2002 truce around 19 months ago.

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