Troops enter key Tamil Tiger town Kilinochchi

Sri Lankan troops marched into the Tamil Tigers' de facto capital of Kilinochchi and will be soon taken over by the government, according to government officials. The fall of the key Tamil town would be a major blow for the rebels.


AFP - Sri Lankan troops forced their way into the centre of the Tamil Tiger political capital of Kilinochchi on Friday after months of bitter fighting, an official at the president's office said.

Ground troops breached the defences of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at two locations in Kilinochchi and were moving to establish full control of the town, the official said.

"Troops entered Kilinochchi town from two places this morning and heavy fighting is going on," the official said, declining to be named. "They should be able to establish total control very soon."

The fall of Kilinochchi would be a heavy symbolic loss for the Tigers, who had vowed to defend the town at all costs.

The rebels' courts and police headquarters and main political offices are all based in Kilinochchi, which the LTTE ran as the capital of its de facto mini-state in northeastern Sri Lanka.

Military sources said the army had used a pincer movement to enter the town from the north and the south.

"The two columns should link up anytime soon," an army official said. "Troops have already entered Kilinochchi railway station in the centre of town."

Railway lines in the area had been removed by the Tigers in the early 1990s, but the station buildings remain.

Military officials said all key landmarks in the town were now in the hands of the security forces who were encountering pockets of rebel resistance.

The defence ministry had announced earlier Friday that troops had moved to perimeter of Kilinochchi after capturing a junction just north of the town.

Army chief Sarath Fonseka had said on Thursday night that his forces were poised to take control of Kilinochchi "within 48 hours" as the air force stepped up attacks against rebel positions.

There was no immediate comment from the Tigers, but the guerrillas in a statement on Thursday night said another five civilians had been killed and 18 wounded in an air attack.

The government of President Mahinda Rajapakse in January last year pulled out of a moribund truce arranged by peace broker Norway in February 2002.

Rajapakse ordered his troops to take action against the Tigers after the guerrillas staged an abortive attack on army chief Fonseka in April 2006.

Since then, the Tigers have been on the defensive. The rebels lost strongholds in the east of the island last year, since when they have been steadily on the retreat in the north of the island.

The Tigers have been waging a long campaign for independence for Sri Lanka's minority Tamil community. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the violence since 1972, making it Asia's longest running ethnic conflict.

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