Mon, Jan 12, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Tamil Tigers expected to make stand at Mullaittivu

FINAL PUSH? Sri Lankan troops moved into the Jaffna Peninsula after seizing control of Elephant Pass and expect a battle at the rebels’ final stronghold

AP , COLOMBO

Sri Lankan government troops pushed into two of the last sections of territory held by Tamil Tiger rebels on Saturday, a day after capturing a key stronghold in the north.

Soldiers moved into a narrow sliver of land the rebels have been holding on the east coast of the Jaffna Peninsula, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

On Friday, troops seized control of Elephant Pass, the Tamil Tiger rebels’ last major stronghold on the northern peninsula.

Soldiers also moved on Saturday into the pocket of territory the rebels still control on the main section of an island south of the peninsula, he said.

The rebels retreated south to the region around their last stronghold of Mullaittivu — where they were expected to make a stand — after months of government offensives.

Soldiers advancing on Mullaittivu also captured a nearby 2.5km-long runway on Saturday. The rebels have used the strip to launch their rudimentary aircraft for several bombing raids on key military and economic targets since 2007, the military said in a statement.

Rebel officials could not be reached for comment.

The government has vowed to crush the separatist guerrillas and end the Indian Ocean island nation’s quarter-century-old civil war in the coming months.

The new military thrust followed a string of major victories.

Troops seized the Tamil Tiger administrative capital of Kilinochchi last week and quickly pushed deep into rebel territory.

On Friday, they took Elephant Pass, giving the government nearly full control of the northern peninsula — the Tamil’s cultural capital and the symbolic heart of the insurgency — for the first time in nine years.

The rebels still controlled a tiny section on the peninsula’s east coast that troops were fighting to clear on Saturday, Nanayakkara said.

The fall of Elephant Pass also put the A-9 road, Sri Lanka’s major north-south highway and a powerful symbol of national unity, completely under government control for the first time in 23 years.

The road will allow soldiers in the north to link up with those coming from the south and west and attack the rebels boxed in the northeast with renewed force.

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