Sri Lankan military: Army seizes rebel-held town
Sat December 27, 2008 07:44 EST .
- - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) Sri Lankan soldiers seized a town in a Tamil rebel stronghold after a 36-hour battle while air force jets bombed a hideout believed to have been visited by the Tamil Tigers' top leader, defense officials said Saturday.
Fighting has escalated in recent months in the 25-year-old civil war, and troops have captured a series of rebel bases and large chunks of territory in the north.
Troops took control of Mulliawalai town in Mullaittivu district on Friday after the gunbattle, the defense ministry said in a statement. It provided no casualty figures.
The military says its ground forces, backed by artillery, armored vehicles, fighter jets and helicopter gunships, have forced the rebels to retreat from much of Mullaittivu on the northeast coast in recent weeks.
As part of that campaign, air force jets bombed a hideout deep in the jungle in Mullaittivu on Saturday, said air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara. Rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran has reportedly visited the place several times.
He did not give details of casualties or damage, but said the pilots confirmed that ``they hit the target.''
Helicopter gunships also attacked Tamil positions in the rebel's de facto capital of Kilinochchi on Saturday, said Nanayakkara. Soldiers captured Nalanawakulam, a small rebel-held village near the city, said a military statement.
In recent weeks government forces have been locked in intense battles with Tamil guerillas on the edge of Kilinochchi and have made little progress.
Rebel spokesmen could not be contacted for comment because communications to much of the north have been severed. Reporters are banned from the war zone, so media rely largely on government and rebel statements for information about the war.
Officials have pledged to crush the guerrillas by the end of the year.
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: Sat Dec 27 11:27:17 EST 2008