Military takes partial control of strategic Elephant Pass

Sri Lankan forces took control of part of the strategic Elephant Pass from the Tamil Tiger rebels. This is the second major blow for the separatists, days after losing their de facto capital of Kilinochchi.


AFP - Sri Lankan troops battling Tamil rebels Monday captured part of the highly strategic Elephant Pass in a second major success just days after taking the guerrillas' political headquarters, the army said.

Military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said the southern part of Elephant Pass, a causeway linking the northern Jaffna peninsula to the mainland, fell to troops advancing north from Kilinochchi which was seized on Friday.

"Troops are now consolidating in the southern part of Elephant Pass," he said.

Tamil Tiger rebels had held the Elephant Pass since April 2000. There was no immediate comment from the ethnic rebels, who have seen their northern fiefdom crumble in recent months in the face of a massive government onslaught.

The Sri Lankan army's advance to the causeway, if confirmed, would deal another serious blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The fall of Elephant Pass would enable government troops from the south to link up with government forces in Jaffna who have been cut off from the rest of the island by LTTE positions.

The advance also further isolates Tamil Tiger rebels in a section of northeastern coastal jungle around Mullaittivu, the last remaining town in the hands of the LTTE.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since the Tamils launched their struggle for an autonomous homeland in 1972, but the government pulled out of a ceasefire last year and launched a major offensive to crush the Tigers.

An army statement said government troops were now advancing with "high morale" following the fall of Kilinochchi and were causing "heavy damages to the terrorists."

Just a few dozen people were still in Kilinochchi when government soldiers secured the town after months of heavy fighting.

One resident told an AFP reporter who was flown to the town by the military on Sunday that the guerrillas had ordered civilians to shift to Mullaittivu, where the rebels are known to have their main military facilities.

For their part, the pro-rebel Tamilnet website said Tigers were putting up stiff resistance to the military advance on Mullaittivu and said they killed 53 soldiers and wounded another 80.

Tamilnet said the Tigers recovered the bodies of two government soldiers. The claims could not be independently verified.

Military officials denied the rebel figures and said security forces recovered the bodies of 12 Tiger rebels.

The military official leading the government assault said his forces were now advancing on Mullaittivu and LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

"We are taking the offensive to the Mullaittivu jungles where Prabhakaran is hiding," Major General Jagath Dias told reporters.

Sri Lanka officially marked on Monday the capture of Kilinochchi by flying the national flag and observing two minutes of silence to honour the security forces, officials said.

The flag fluttered from homes and rooftops of government buildings as people stood still at shops and offices in the capital Colombo, witnesses said.

"State television and radio stations blacked out their regular bulletins to mark the occasion. It was two minutes of silence across the airwaves," said Anusha Pelpita, director of the government's information department.

Private television channels stopped their live programmes and played patriotic songs followed by the national anthem, officials said.

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