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Friday, January 9, 2009

Sri Lanka forces capture Elephant Pass...

Sri Lankan troops on Friday captured Elephant Pass, the Tamil Tigers' last stronghold on the Jaffna peninsula, seizing control of a base and a symbolic highway, and isolating the retreating rebels in a shrinking slice of northeastern jungle.

The victory at Elephant Pass came exactly a week after the military seized the Tamil Tigers' administrative capital of Kilinochchi and began racing deep into rebel-held territory.

Concerns meanwhile rose about potential civilian casualties.

The government has vowed to crush the separatist guerrillas and end the Indian Ocean island nation's quarter-century-old civil war in the coming months.

The capture of Elephant Pass gives the government nearly full control of the northern peninsula — the Tamil's cultural capital and the symbolic heart of the insurgency — for the first time in nine years. The rebels still control a small sliver of land in the east of the peninsula.

It also puts the A-9 road, Sri Lanka's major north-south highway and a powerful symbol of national unity, completely under government control for the first time in 23 years. The road will allow the government to easily send supplies over land to the once isolated enclave of Jaffna, which it had been forced to resupply by air and sea.

The road will also serve as a supply line for government forces laying siege to the rebels' last remaining stronghold of Mullaittivu.

However, that fighting will be especially difficult because of the presence of hundreds of thousands of civilians concentrated in the rebel area, said Iqbal Athas, a military analyst for Jane's Defense Weekly.

Human rights groups have warned that civilian casualties were likely to mount as the government closes in on the insurgents. The pro-rebel TamilNet Web site has blamed government artillery assaults for several civilian deaths in recent days — charges the military has denied.

"It's going to be the final part that's the toughest part for the military," Athas said.

"The soldiers today are waging a battle to give the people a country free of terrorism," President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in announcing the victory on national television.

The rebels were not available for comment.

But, in a reminder of the Tamil Tigers' ability to strike back in the face of conventional defeats, the rebels detonated a roadside bomb near the eastern city of Trincomalee that killed three air force troops and four civilians, military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The government captured the east from the rebels in 2007, but attacks in the area have increased in recent months.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization by governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. The conflict has killed more than 70,000 people.

Before the recent military offensive, the rebels controlled a large swath of territory in the country's north that they ran as a de facto state, with their own courts, police and tax system.

That territory was sandwiched between the northern Jaffna peninsula — largely in government hands — and the rest of the country to the south.

But troops pushed in from the south in recent months, and captured an important crossroads last week that led to Elephant Pass on the rebel-controlled isthmus connecting the peninsula to the rest of the island.

As troops descended on the rebels there from the north and south, the insurgents had little choice but to withdraw many of their fighters and heavy weapons to Mullaittivu to the south, Athas said.

"They had to cede it otherwise they would have gotten trapped," Athas said.

On Friday, government forces broke into Elephant Pass from both sides and fought with the retreating rebels, Nanayakkara said.

"(The rebels) were just engaging and withdrawing," he said. "They did not have any fire support like artillery and mortars. They were fighting with small arms and booby trapping the area and moving out."

The Tamil Tigers seized control of Elephant Pass in 2000 in a battle that left more than 700 soldiers dead or missing, but many doubt the rebels have the capability to repeat such a feat.

The victory at Elephant Pass gave the government new momentum by linking up troops who had been stationed along the relatively static northern front lines with the forces chasing the rebels from the south and west, Athas said. That frees up thousands of troops to join the battle, he said...

capturing of Elephant Pass as reported by international media

Hindustan Times

Times of india.



New York Times.

Asian tribune

Roopawaahini Evening News.January 06, 2009(War situation Report)

Swarnawahini News 06/01/2009(Awasan Satana)


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