AFP - Sri Lankan troops fighting Tamil rebels took full control Friday of the highly strategic Elephant Pass, a causeway linking the Jaffna peninsula with the northern mainland, a government official said.
The capture of the Pass, which the rebel Tamil Tigers had held since April 2000, is another huge blow to the movement after the fall of their political capital Kilinochchi last week.
It means the military now controls a 142-kilometre (88-mile) stretch of the vital A-9 highway and can supply troops and nearly half a million civilians in Jaffna, the government spokesman said.
He said the causeway fell to government soldiers advancing northwards from Kilinochchi and another column that moved south from earlier army defences.
"They have established full control over Elephant Pass today after entering the south of the area four days ago," he said.
There was no comment from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
The Tigers had dislodged the military from Elephant Pass in 2000 and held a 100-kilometre stretch of the A-9 route, forcing the military to use expensive air and sea transport instead to supply Jaffna.
Officials said President Mahinda Rajapakse was likely to issue a statement later Friday congratulating troops for retaking Elephant Pass and establishing control over the A-9, which would now serve as a main supply route.
The military launched its biggest-ever ground offensive against the LTTE in March 2007, since when the rebels have seen their territory shrink rapidly.
They are now almost totally confined to the jungle district of Mullaittivu in the northeast, where some 300,000 civilians are also living.
Separately Friday, four civilians and three security personnel were killed in the adjoining district of Trincomalee when a powerful roadside bomb struck their bus in an ambush by suspected Tiger rebels.
A military official said troops were escorting the bus when it was hit. At least six civilians were wounded in the powerful blast.
"It was a Claymore mine targeting the bus," the official added. "Security personnel from the air force were escorting the bus at the time."
Authorities in the tense region use troops to escort public transport after several LTTE ambushes in the past.
Police said they were probing the LTTE's involvement in the attack.