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Sri Lanka military seizes key northern peninsula

[AP, Wednesday, 14 January 2009 17:33 No Comment]

Sri Lankan government forces seized a final strip of Tamil Tiger rebel-held land in the north Wednesday, securing control of the symbolic heart of the 25-year separatist insurgency, the military said.


The Jaffna peninsula is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka’s ethnic minority Tamils. Taking full control of the territory after nine years is a strategic and symbolic victory for the government.


Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said all of Jaffna was secured when the soldiers captured Chundikkulam village. Last week, troops captured the Elephant Pass base, the insurgents’ final stronghold on the peninsula.


Nanayakkara said the rebels retreated with their dead and the military did not suffer any casualties.

Rebel officials could not be reached for comment.


Sri Lanka’s military started this year on a high, seizing the capital of the rebels’ de facto state, securing Elephant Pass and forcing the retreating fighters into a small territory in the northeast.


Humanitarian groups say some 230,000 civilians were crammed into the remaining rebel-held district, Mullaittivu. The rebels said they could only protect the civilians if they voluntarily moved to the district, but Human Rights Watch has accused the rebels of preventing people from fleeing the area.


Nanayakkara said nearly 800 civilians had defied rebel threats and fled Mullaittivu on Wednesday, entering territory recently captured by government forces. He said about 1,700 people have sought protection from the government so far.


Authorities say they hope to finally crush the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the coming months. The rebels are fighting to establish an independent state for minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization at the hands of successive governments controlled by majority ethnic Sinhalese.

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