|Sri Lanka army fights to finish off Tamil Tigers|
|Monday, 12 January 2009|
By C. Bryson Hull
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops fought toward the shrinking strongholds of the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels on Sunday, the military said, seeking a crushing battlefield victory to end one of Asia's longest insurgent ground wars.
The military said it had killed at least 24 rebels after a series of confrontations on Saturday in the small north-eastern wedge of jungle which is all that is left of the Tigers' self-proclaimed state.
In the course of fighting, troops captured two rebel camps and a 2.5 km (1 mile) long airstrip with two hangars the military said it suspected was used by the Tigers' rudimentary air wing.
The air force said war planes destroyed a rebel boat on Sunday and wounded fighters from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fleeing the area, which is on the east coast north of the remaining Tiger bastion of Mullaittivu.
The Tigers could not be reached for comment. But the pro-rebel web site www.TamilNet.com quoted Tiger officials saying they had killed 18 soldiers and wounded 40 at Iranamadu, southwest of the former rebel headquarters of Kilinochchi.
Soldiers seized that town, which the rebels had dubbed their capital, on January 2 and a week later ran the LTTE out of Elephant Pass, the strategic gateway to the northern Jaffna Peninsula which had been in rebel hands since 2000.
Both major victories have cleared the way for soldiers to converge on the port of Mullaittivu with the aim of ending the 25-year ground war.
TamilNet also reported an artillery barrage killed four civilians in Puthukudiyiruppu, near Mullaittivu.
The military denied both TamilNet stories and said it had a policy of not causing any civilian casualties.
It is difficult to get a clear picture since both sides block most independent access to the battlefield and have in the past distorted casualty figures to their advantage.
Rights groups have accused the LTTE of holding Tamil civilians hostage in the war zone.
The LTTE denies this but in the past has used the presence of civilians to stop or slow army offensives, and analysts expect the large civilian presence to delay the push on Mullaittivu.
In a sign of what analysts believe will come after the conventional war is over, one member of a government-allied breakaway Tiger group was killed and two rebels were shot in a confrontation in the eastern town of Trincomalee.
The LTTE say they are fighting to address mistreatment of minority Tamils since the Sinhalese ethnic majority took over at independence from Britain in 1948. But many Sinhalese say Tamils enjoyed unfair advantages in colonial times and want them back.
The Tigers are on U.S., European Union and Indian terrorism lists after carrying out hundreds of assassinations and suicide bombings, including against Tamils who challenged them.
(Editing by Dean Yates)
|Last Updated ( Friday, 14 August 2009 )|
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