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Sri Lanka bombs rebels after seizing their HQ

[AP, Saturday, 3 January 2009 08:37 No Comment]

Sri Lankan air force jets and helicopters bombed a series of rebel targets in the north and northeast, the military said Saturday, as soldiers pressed deeper into Tamil Tiger territory a day after capturing the rebels’ de facto capital.

 

The fall of Kilinochchi on Friday dealt a devastating blow to the insurgents’ 25-year campaign to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils. It has squeezed them into 620 square miles (1,605 square kilometers) they still hold in the northeast.

 

Rebel-affiliated TamilNet Web site said the Tamil Tigers had moved their headquarters before the town fell.

 

Air force spokesman Janaka Nanayakkara said that helicopters bombed the rebels near Oddusuddan and Mullaitivu towns Saturday in the northeast as the insurgents tried to stop advancing government troops.

 

He said casualty details from the raids were unavailable. Rebel officials could not be contacted for comment.

 

The military said in a statement that the air force also bombed rebel targets Friday to assist troops trying to reach a remaining rebel stronghold at Elephant Pass in the north.

 

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka said that his soldiers are just 1 mile (2 kilometers) south of Elephant Pass, a strategic gateway to the northern Jaffna peninsula, the cultural capital of the country’s Tamils.

 

Sri Lanka’s army maintained a well-fortified base at the pass until the rebels captured it eight years ago killing hundreds of soldiers.

 

Army troops cleared the way into Kilinochchi on Thursday when they captured a key crossroad north of the town that allowed them to close in from three directions, the military said. They entered Kilinochchi the following morning with only minimal resistance, they said.

 

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has vowed to destroy the group formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, announced the fall of Kilinochchi in a nationally televised speech.

 

"Our brave and heroic troops have fully captured Kilinochchi, which was considered the main bastion of the LTTE," he said. "For the last time, I call upon the LTTE to lay down their arms and surrender."

 

Just an hour after the announcement, a suspected rebel suicide attacker blew himself up near air force headquarters in the heart of Colombo among troops heading home in the busy afternoon rush hour, air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said. Among the 37 injured were 16 airmen, he said.

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