|Sri Lanka army seizes entire west coast|
|Monday, 17 November 2008|
By C. Bryson Hull
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's military said troops seized the entire western coast of the Indian Ocean island on Saturday, capturing the key Pooneryn area where Tamil Tiger rebel artillery had kept soldiers at bay since 1993.
With the military controlling Pooneryn, a strategic spit of land that runs parallel to the neck of the northern Jaffna Peninsula across a narrow lagoon, it will be in a position to strike the rebel capital of Kilinochchi from three sides.
In one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies, at least 70,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka since 1983.
"We have completely taken over Pooneryn. We have gone up to the town, and control the roads from Pooneryn to Paranthan," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.
The Defence Ministry said troops had encountered stiff resistance as they fought through marshlands south of Pooneryn and across the Paranthan junction overnight.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had no immediate comment.
Previously, the LTTE had used heavy artillery to prevent two army divisions garrisoned on Jaffna, in army hands since 1995, from moving south to Kilinochchi.
The announcement also coincided with the second reading of Rajapaksa's proposed 2009 budget in parliament, which includes record defence spending of 177.06 billion rupees ($1.61 billion).
On Saturday, Rajapaksa reiterated a surrender offer he gave the Tigers last week after they called for a ceasefire.
A 2002 truce, poorly observed by both sides, ended when the government threw it out and accused LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran of using it to re-arm.
"My clear message to Prabhakaran and the LTTE is to lay down their arms and come forward for discussions with us forthwith," Rajapaksa said on Saturday. "The laying down of their arms is the greatest service the LTTE could do for ... Sri Lanka."
That is a highly unlikely prospect because Prabhakaran -- who made suicide bombing an effective weapon of war long before al Qaeda did -- orders his fighters to take cyanide in case of capture and is rumoured to carry a cyanide capsule himself.
Control of Pooneryn means that, for the first time since 1993, the government controls a land route all the way to a ferry that can easily bring supplies to Jaffna.
"From their secret bases in Tamil Nadu, the Tigers will not be able to bring war material into the western coast," Athas said, referring to the nearby Tamil-majority state across the Palk Strait in India.
Athas said it foreshadowed a brutal battle for Kilinochchi, the capture of which would give the military strategic and morale gains while energising Rajapaksa's political base.
"Capturing Pooneryn is very significant, but now they have a more responsible task of securing the areas captured," he said. "The rebels are throwing all they have to secure Kilinochchi."
The LTTE, on U.S., EU and Indian terrorism lists, says it is fighting for a separate homeland for minority Sri Lankan Tamils. Many Tamils complain governments led by the Sinhalese majority since independence from Britain in 1948 have sidelined them.
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 July 2009 )|
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