Government forces have seized a final strip of land from Tamil Tiger rebels in a key northern peninsula of Sri Lanka, securing control of the symbolic heart of the 25-year separatist insurgency, the military said.
The defense secretary, meanwhile, accused some journalists of being “terrorists” trying to save the rebel group from the brink of defeat.
The military on Wednesday took full control of the northern Jaffna peninsula, the cultural capital of Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority, leaving the rebels in control of only one remaining district.
The peninsula was fully secured when soldiers captured Chundikkulam village, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. Last week, troops captured the Elephant Pass base, the insurgents’ final stronghold on the peninsula.
Nanayakkara said the rebels retreated with their dead and that the military did not suffer any casualties.
Rebel officials could not be reached for comment.
Sri Lanka’s military started this year on a high, seizing the capital of the rebels’ de facto state, securing Elephant Pass and forcing the retreating fighters into a small territory in the northeast.
Humanitarian groups say some 230,000 civilians were crammed in the remaining rebel-held district of Mullaittivu.
The rebels said they are protecting civilians who voluntarily moved to the district, but Human Rights Watch has accused the rebels of preventing people from fleeing.
Nanayakkara said nearly 800 civilians had defied rebel threats and fled Mullaittivu on Wednesday.
Authorities say they hope to finally crush the Tigers in coming months.
The rebels want an independent state for minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization by governments controlled by majority ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in a television interview on Wednesday, accused some journalists of being “terrorists” who take up the profession to shield their activities.
The government, meanwhile, has faced criticism over recent attacks against independent media.
On Jan. 6 more than a dozen men armed with assault rifles raided a private TV and radio network and blew up its control room.
Two days later, a newspaper editor who was a harsh critic of the government was shot and killed as he drove to work near Colombo.
Foreign governments have condemned these attacks, and human rights groups said the government has created a climate of impunity for such attacks on perceived critics.
Rajapaksa accused the media company that was gutted of being the “voice” of the rebels and claimed that it burned its own control room to create an international outcry.
According to London-based Amnesty International, at least 14 journalists and Sri Lankans working for the media have been killed since the beginning of 2006.