By Jason Motlagh
AGGRESSIVE Sri Lankan government forces continue to push deeper into the Tamil Tiger heartland and are now within reach of their administrative capital, raising hopes that the end of a brutal 25-year civil war may be near.The military campaign has benefited from an international crackdown on the Tigers' fundraising and smuggling networks, and high-level defections that have undermined grassroots Tamil support for its iron-willed chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Since January, when it scrap- ped a Norway-brokered ceasefire and vowed to crush the Tigers by the end of the year, the government has poured some £821 million into an all-out, multiple-front offensive that has killed about 6,000 rebels and reduced their last stronghold in the island's northern Wanni region by nearly 75 per cent, according to the Ministry of Defence.
It said fewer than 600 troops have died during the period.
Military officials said last week they are in artillery range of the Tigers' de facto capital, Kilinochchi, where Prabhakaran is believed to be hiding in an underground bunker complex.
Casualty claims and battlefield progress, often prone to exaggeration, are impossible to verify independently since journalists are barred from entering the conflict zone, but observers agree security forces are making steady gains.
"Whatever the future may hold there is no denying that as far as ongoing positional warfare is concerned, it is a case of 'advantage army' and that the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is being relentlessly forced to fall back from previously held positions," DBS Jeyaraj, a veteran analyst, wrote in a recent column.
Clashes have intensified as the army moves to cut off a vital sea smuggling route from India, while thrusting into the eastern flank in an effort to surround Kilinochchi.
"There is no turning back under any circumstances or influence now until every inch of land is recaptured and each and every terrorist is killed or captured," Mahinda Rajapakse, the president, told a rally this week.
On Sunday, Mr Rajapakse's party won elections for two provincial councils, which he argued amounted to a referendum on his government's military strategy.
Meanwhile, aid agencies working in the north say the 112,000 ethnic Tamils who have fled their homes to escape mounting violence over the past two months are forced to stay on the move to avoid daily gun battles, shelling and air attacks.
The overall total of displaced in rebel-held areas stands at 145,000 but could soar above 200,000 according to the United Nations, which said last week that relief supplies are running "dangerously low" and called for both sides to allow safe passage for civilians and aid workers.
Prabhakaran's influential former deputy, Col Karuna Amman, split with the LTTE in 2004, formed his own political party and pledged to co-operate with the government, taking 6,000 loyal cadres with him
(Courtesy : Scotsman.com )