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Sri Lanka tightens snare on Tigers and rebel leader

[Reuters, Tuesday, 13 January 2009 18:03 No Comment]

Sri Lanka is tightening the snare around the Tamil Tigers and their elusive leader with air raids and a sea blockade in an offensive that is fast taking the separatist rebels’ last territory, the military said on Tuesday.

Air force jets hit a jungle hideout often used by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) founder Vellupillai Prabhakaran on Monday night, the air force said. The air force said the target had been hit, but it was not clear if Prabhakaran was there.

 

The Tigers could not be reached for comment. But the pro-rebel web site http://www.TamilNet.com reported that the military was targeting civilians with artillery attacks, which the military denies.

 

The military in the last two weeks has seized two major strategic targets, the rebels’ self-proclaimed capital of Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass, which puts the entire Jaffna Peninsula under their control for the first time since 2000.

 

After those two decisive blows, the army has turned all of its units toward the eastern port of Mullaitivu and is surging through a wedge of jungle surrounding it that measures no more than 330 sq km (130 sq miles).

Many experts foresee a rapid end to a ground war that has turned into one of Asia’s longest-running, with combat raging off and on since 1983. Analysts expect that the Tigers will go back underground as the army closes in on Mullaittivu.

 

The Tigers, according to former rebels and military officials, lost most of their surface-to-air missiles in the 2005 tsunami, but keep the few they have along with anti-aircraft guns to protect Prabhakaran.

"Anti-aircraft fire can be seen sometimes and also in some occasions they use whatever weapons they have against our helicopters when we conduct close air operations," air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkarasaid.

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