Sri Lankan fighter jets pound rebels
Wed December 24, 2008 04:22 EST .
RAVI NESSMAN - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan fighter jets bombed rebel positions along the front lines in the north Wednesday as ground forces captured a hidden runway used by the Tamil Tiger air wing, the military said.
Fighting between the two sides has escalated in recent months as the government pressed ahead with an offensive aimed at forcing the Tamil Tiger rebels out of their de facto state in the north.
With fighting raging on the ground, the air force carried out several strikes against rebel positions Wednesday, including two near Paranthan junction, the military said. Pilots planned more sorties throughout the day, air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said.
The rebel-affiliated Web site TamilNet said the airstrikes hit a convent near Paranthan junction that was marked with a large red cross on its roof. The airstrikes killed 85 cows near the convent and sent civilians living in the area fleeing, the Web site reported.
Meanwhile, ground troops captured a runway Tuesday that was used by the so-called Air Tigers, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said. It was the third runway captured in recent fighting, he said.
The rebels have at least two more runways, he said.
The rebel air wing has used small planes to carry out bombing runs on Sri Lankan cities, including Colombo, deeply embarrassing the military, which has been unable to stop the attacks.
With most communication to the north severed in the fighting, rebel spokesmen could not be contacted for comment.
The military has also captured about 4 miles (7 kilometers) of a 10-mile-long (17-kilometer-long) berm and moat fortification the rebels had built around their administrative capital of Kilinochchi, Brig. Nanayakkara said.
Defense spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said last month that Kilinochchi was expected to fall to government forces ``imminently,'' although troops have made little headway in taking the town.
On Wednesday, Rambukwella said he would not give any time frame for the capture of the town.
``We are on course, we are on a schedule, but in this type of situation, unexpected things pop up,'' he said.
The military was also trying to be cautious to protect civilians in the area, he said.
``Otherwise, we would have bulldozed the thing in no time,'' he said.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.
Published: Wed Dec 24 05:49:17 EST 2008