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Sri Lanka Army Advances; LTTE Vows to Meet Challenges

[Bloomberg, Wednesday, 7 January 2009 07:41 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s army drove Tamil Tiger rebels from defense lines in the northeast as the group said it will overcome the challenge of losing control of its political headquarters last week.

 

Troops are attacking the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam from the north and the south of Elephant Pass, the strategic causeway to the Jaffna Peninsula, the Defense Ministry said on its Web site. Rebel units were forced the retreat south from Muhamalai yesterday, it said.

 

The fall of the Kilinochchi headquarters on Jan. 2 is a setback, N. Nadesan, the political head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, said yesterday in an interview with TamilNet. “With the resolute backing of our people and the moral support base of the global Tamil community, we are determined to overcome the current challenges,” he said.

 

Sri Lanka’s army has driven the LTTE into the northeast of the South Asian island nation as it tries to end the 26-year-old conflict. The Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east of the country, lost control of the eastern region 18 months ago.

 

The army has 50,000 soldiers advancing in Mullaitivu district, the last stronghold of the Tamil Tigers, Keheliya Rambukwella, a cabinet minister and defense spokesman, said in a interview in the capital, Colombo, yesterday.

 

Last Onslaught

 

“It’s the last onslaught,” Rambukwella said, adding that the government is dismantling the LTTE’s infrastructure of terrorism. Still, the group “is a guerrilla outfit and even 2,000 members in the jungles can be quite effective.”

 

Some analysts say the number of rebel fighters may be as high as 10,000.

 

Army units two days ago captured Tadduwankaddi and Thamilamadam, south of Elephant Pass, the military said.

 

“This capture cut off the supply routes from the south to Elephant Pass and the LTTE is now left with only the eastern coast route for supplies,” it said in a statement.

 

Control of Elephant Pass would allow government forces on the mainland to link up with military bases on the Jaffna Peninsula, further eroding rebel-held territory.

 

“We have faced several major political and military challenges and have successfully withstood these with the support of our people,” Nadesan told TamilNet. “Kilinochchi town was captured more than once by the Sri Lankan military earlier. Similarly, we have also re-captured the town on earlier occasions.”

Tamil Population

 

The LTTE says Tamils are discriminated against by the ethnic Sinhalese majority. Tamils made up 11.9 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million and Sinhalese almost 74 percent in 2001, according to a census that year.

 

The LTTE is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union and India.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Jan. 2 called on Sri Lankans to support the army as it tries to defeat the Tamil Tigers. Rajapaksa said the fall of Kilinochchi was a victory over “venomous separatism.”

His government plans to spend a sixth of its budget this year on defense.

 

Sri Lanka’s credit rating was cut to B, five levels below investment grade, by Standard & Poor’s last month on mounting public debt and political and security concerns.

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