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Captured rebel land in Sri Lanka deserted

[AP, Sunday, 4 January 2009 09:33 No Comment]

The main highway running through what was once Sri Lanka’s rebel heartland was nearly deserted Sunday, except for some stray dogs and abandoned cows.


Two days after the military captured the Tamil Tigers’ administrative capital of Kilinochchi, the government led a victory tour of the newly seized areas, even as fighting raged on in the north and east as soldiers sought to capture the rebels’ last jungle strongholds.


The land surrounding Kilinochchi was eerily abandoned.


The scattered buildings lining the road have been pulverized by shelling. Army demining teams waved mine detectors over the road bed and dug up the middle of the A-9 highway searching for booby traps left behind by the fleeing rebels.


Hundreds of thousands of civilians lived in the Kilinochchi district and other regions that were controlled by the rebels before new fighting in the quarter-century civil war erupted again three years ago. Those people have disappeared into the jungles as well, fleeing ahead of the recent government offensive.


The government has barred independent journalists from traveling to this area for a year and a half, but it agreed to bring reporters here to show off its success in driving the rebels out of their main stronghold.


"Day by day, the Tigers’ territory is shrinking and their numbers are dwindling. The objective of finishing this war won’t be that long off," said Maj. Gen. Jagath Dias, who commanded the battle for the town of Kilinochchi.


Rebel spokesmen were not available for comment, but previous efforts to destroy the group have failed.


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

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