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Sri Lankan troops inside last big Tiger town

[Reuters, Sunday, 25 January 2009 09:46 No Comment]

uk.reuters.com Sri Lankan soldiers battled their way into the last major town held by Tamil Tiger separatists amid heavy fighting on Sunday and would soon take control of it, the military said.

 

The eastern port of Mullaittivu is one of the final targets of a military onslaught to end once a for all a 25-year war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.

 

"The 59th Division entered Mullaittivu town a short while ago. It is a matter of time before they take full control of the area," defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told Reuters.

 

The 59th Division has been battling up the eastern coast towards Mullaittivu for months, while other army units have fought to encircle the LTTE from the west and north.

 

"Heavy fighting is going on to negotiate the area," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The Tigers are now surrounded in a wedge of jungle measuring less than 365 square km (141 square miles), down from the 15,000 square km they controlled when hostilities reignited in 2006, according to the Defence Ministry.

 

Aid agencies say about 230,000 civilians fleeing the fighting are trapped there. Rights groups and the government accuse the LTTE of keeping them as human shields.

 

At least 100 civilians were killed in artillery exchanges last week. The army set up a 32 square km safe zone inside the war zone, but said the LTTE had moved its artillery and heavy weapons inside it.

The LTTE could not be reached for comment.

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