Sri Lankan troops on Thursday captured a key town from Tamil Tiger rebels in the island’s north after intense clashes that left at least 50 guerrillas dead, the defence ministry said.
The fall of Paranthan, near the Tigers’ political capital Kilinochchi, has effectively cut off the rebels’ main supply line to several other strongholds, the ministry said in a statement.
At least 50 Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels have been killed and twice as many wounded in heavy fighting since Tuesday, it added.
The ministry did not say if security forces suffered any casualties.
"Unable to withstand the fury of the combined army and air force onslaught, LTTE terrorists withdrew from the town in total disarray," the ministry said.
Paranthan is about six kilometres (four miles) from Kilinochchi, which is the military’s main objective.
Military officials said government forces were heading toward Kilinochchi following the success at Paranthan, which had been under rebel control for 10 years.
"LTTE resistances and counter-attacks were outflanked by the intense military armour attacks and concentrated artillery and mortar fire," the defence ministry said.
"The fighting was fierce and prolonged for hours until terrorists were completely beaten by the determined soldiers."
The Tigers made no comment on the military’s claims, but in a statement on Wednesday night said that four civilians were killed and 18 wounded in two air raids inside areas they held.
The guerrillas have vowed to defend their political base after the military announced it intended to capture Kilinochchi and dismantle the de facto state run by the separatist movement.
The Tigers lost strongholds in the east of the island last year, since when they have been steadily on the retreat in the north.
Soldiers have also stepped up pressure on the LTTE’s military base in the northeastern town of Mullaittivu.
The latest fighting came as a government ultimatum to the Tigers — designed to allow 300,000 civilians in areas under their control to leave and seek shelter in government-held areas — expired on Wednesday.
President Mahinda Rajapakse announced last week that he would re-impose a formal ban on the Tamil Tigers if civilians were not allowed the freedom to leave by December 31.