Sri Lanka says poised to take rebel capital

1/01/2009 - 13:02

By Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops were poised to enter the de facto capital of the Tamil Tigers after capturing strategic areas around the town following heavy fighting with the rebels, the military said on Thursday.

Government troops captured Iranamadu junction, south of the rebels' self-proclaimed capital of Kilinochchi, and Paranthan town to the north, from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the military said.

The capture of both Iranamadu Junction and Paranthan will pave the way for government troops to move into the rebel capital for the first time in more than a decade, it said.

"The 57th division troops today captured Iranamadu junction," said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara hours after the military announced the capture of Paranthan, a key rebel-held town that controls a key land route to rebel strongholds in northern Jaffna peninsula.

The capture of the two towns represented the latest battlefield victories by the military which has vowed to defeat the Tigers in 2009 to end their over 25-year separatist campaign.

"Troops are moving in. There were heavy confrontations and terrorists were withdrawing with heavy casualties," Nanayakkara said.

Elephant Pass, a key position at the neck of Jaffna peninsula, and Kilinochchi are now more vulnerable as the captured areas would cut off the main supply routes, Nanayakkara said.

Meanwhile the island nation's Army Chief Sarath Fonseka said Kilinochchi will be captured within two days.

"The fall of Kilinochchi imminent within next 48 hours," the state owned 'Daily News' quoted Sarath Fonseka, in its breaking news via a mobile text message.

The air force said fighter jets and M24 helicopters bombed three rebel positions, including a rebel command centre, on Thursday in support of the rapidly advancing ground troops.

Sri Lanka's military has been closing in on Kilinochchi since September. Over the past month, it has been assaulting the Tiger defences encircling the town and both sides have claimed to have inflicted ever higher death tolls on the other.

The LTTE had no immediate comment, but the pro-rebel website www.tamilnet.com said air force bombing had killed civilians.

"Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) bombers hit a civilian settlement ... killing civilians and causing injuries to many," the website said.

"At least four civilians were dead among the 25 rushed to hospital. Many wounded were still trapped in the site as Sri Lanka Army (SLA) launched artillery barrage on the settlement after the indiscriminate air strike."

It is nearly impossible to verify battlefield claims since both the government and the LTTE block independent media access to the war zone, and have repeatedly distorted figures to their advantage.

The LTTE started fighting the government in 1983. It says it is battling for the rights of minority Tamils in the face of mistreatment by successive governments led by the Sinhalese majority since Sri Lanka won independence from Britain in 1948.

(Editing by Charles Dick)

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