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Army targets ‘last Tiger pockets

[BBC, Monday, 26 January 2009 11:16 No Comment]

The Sri Lankan army says it is fighting the Tamil Tigers in their remaining jungle bases after taking the last key rebel town of Mullaitivu on Sunday.

The military says it is advancing into the 300 sq km (115 sq mile) triangle of land in which the Tamil Tigers are still operating.


Army commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka has said the war is "95% over".


There is no word from the rebels. The pro-rebel TamilNet website has again accused the army of shelling civilians.


The government has vowed to crush the rebels, who have been fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils for 25 years. At least 70,000 people have been killed during the insurgency.


Pro-rebel sources have accused the military of genocide.


Navy deployment

Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said troops were consolidating positions on Monday around Mullaitivu and pushing into jungle areas.


"They are engaging with artillery. They are engaging with mortars. They are engaging with small arms," he said.


The defence ministry website’s latest report says helicopter gunships had "successfully" targeted rebel positions north of Mullaitivu and that "troops of 57 Division are on the final phase of the offensive".


There is no way of confirming reports from the conflict zone as independent journalists are barred.


Gen Fonseka said on Sunday: "We have cleared 95% of the work… The end of terrorism is near and we will definitely win."


About 50,000 troops are involved in the offensive and navy vessels have been deployed to try to prevent escape by sea.


The BBC’s Anbarasan Ethirajan in Colombo says the fall of Mullaitivu has deprived the Tigers of a crucial military base but the rebels have always shown great capacity to regroup and could remain a major threat as a guerrilla organisation.


Human rights groups have expressed serious concern for the fate of 250,000 civilians in the remaining conflict zone.


The government says it has created a "safe zone", but TamilNet has accused the army of firing artillery shells on to densely-populated areas.


The government has accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields.


There is no word on the whereabouts of the Tigers’ top leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

There has been speculation he might try to reach Tamil Nadu state in southern India. However, he is still wanted for questioning in India in connection with the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

[Full Coverage]

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