Sri Lanka says its soldiers seize key rebel town
Mon November 17, 2008 07:24 EST .
BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan soldiers captured a town straddling crucial rebel supply routes Monday and crossed a highway that had served as a symbolic barrier between the Tamil Tigers and the advancing troops, the military said.
The capture of the crossroads at Mankulam was the latest sign of the military's battlefield success against the rebel group after 25 years of civil war. Just two days earlier, troops overran the last rebel fortifications on the west coast, forcing the retreating insurgents into a shrinking corner of territory in the island's northeast.
The fall of Mankulam is seen as an important victory for the government because of its location along main roads to the rebels' two major strongholds Kilinochchi to north and Mullaitivu to the east.
``We can completely cut off the (rebel) supply routes in this area and movement along the roads,'' military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.
The battle also marked the first time that the military crossed over the A-9 highway in the rebel areas, he said.
After a 2002 cease-fire between the government and the rebels, the highway which runs north-south along the spine of the country was vital link for commerce and civilian traffic between the Tamil Tiger's de facto state in the north and the rest of the country.
But in recent months, as troops pushed the rebels out of their former strongholds along the west coast, the road became a buffer between the two sides.
Nanayakkara, who did not give details of the fighting or casualties, said the capture of the crossroads gave troops a toehold in the northeast that could be used to open a new front against the rebels.
It also could be used to help tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting flee safely into government-controlled areas, he said.
Troops also captured the village of Panikkankulam, 10 kilometers north of Mankulam, along the A-9, the military said.
It was not possible to contact rebel officials for comment because most communication lines with the north have been severed. Independent accounts are difficult to obtain from the battlefield because most journalists are barred from the war zone.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for the country's ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization by ethnic Sinhalese-controlled governments. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
In other fighting Monday, ground forces took control of the northern village of Kumalamunei in the Mullaitivu district, and attack helicopters hit rebel areas in the Kilinochchi district, the military said.
On Sunday, fighter jets bombed an ammunition facility and two rebel camps, while troops fighting throughout the north recovered the bodies of seven slain rebels, the military said.
Citing Tamil Tiger officials, the rebel-affiliated Web site TamilNet reported that 20 government troops were killed in the fighting Sunday.Discuss this story
Published: Mon Nov 17 08:58:28 EST 2008