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Sri Lanka squeezes Tamil Tiger rebels

[IHT, Thursday, 8 January 2009 17:46 No Comment]

Government forces sweeping down from the north captured an important Tamil Tiger base on the Jaffna Peninsula on Thursday, further boxing in the retreating rebel group, the military said.

 

The capture of Pallai on the isthmus connecting Jaffna with the rest of the island nation came after the rebels reportedly withdrew much of their artillery and heavy weapons from the peninsula into their jungle strongholds to the south.

 

Analysts said the group appeared to be sacrificing its bases on the peninsula and consolidating its forces in the Mullaittivu area, where it will likely make a stand against the government.

 

The rebels were not available for comment Wednesday; most communications in their region have been severed. Independent accounts of the fighting were not available because the government has barred journalists and foreign aid groups from the war zone.

 

The new fighting kept up the pressure on the beleaguered rebels a day after the government reinstituted a ban on the group, ruling out the resumption of any peace efforts.

 

Also Thursday, the editor of a newspaper highly critical of the government was shot and killed by gunmen as he drove to work, police said.

 

The attack on Lasantha Wickramatunga of the Sunday Leader newspaper came two days after men armed with grenades and assault rifles attacked a private television station and burned much of its equipment.

Media rights groups have accused the government and its allies of trying to stifle dissent by vilifying opposition journalists as unpatriotic rebel sympathizers and creating an atmosphere that encourages violence against them.

 

Sri Lankan forces have broken through the rebels’ defenses in recent months, seizing large expanses of rebel-held lands, capturing their administrative capital of Kilinochchi and trapping the insurgents in a tiny section of the northeast.

 

Government officials say they intend to crush the group and end the 25-year-old civil war in the island nation southeast of India.

 

For more than a decade, the rebels have run a de facto state, squeezed between the government-held Jaffna Peninsula – the northernmost point in the country – and the rest of the island to the south.

While government troops pushed deep into rebel territory from the south, troops in the Jaffna Peninsula had been unable to break open the Tamil Tigers’ heavily fortified northern lines until earlier this week when they overran the front at Muhamalai.

 

Those forces pushed south about three miles, or five kilometers, capturing Pallai, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

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