Lankan troops capture LTTE’s political hub Kilinochchi (Lead)

January 2nd, 2009 - 7:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 2 (IANS) Sri Lankan troops have “completely” captured the Tamil Tiger rebels’ de facto political capital of Kilinochchi, dealing a major blow to the rebels after over a decade, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced Friday as celebrations broke out across the country at the news of the victory.”A short while ago, our brave and heroic troops have fully captured Kilinochchi that was considered the main bastion of the LTTE. Our troops have completely taken over the fortress of the LTTE,” said President Rajapaksa.

People in the capital city got to the streets in large numbers and burst fire crackers to celebrate the capture of Kilinochchi, lying 350 km north of here, after months of fierce fighting. Similar celebrations were reported from other parts of the country minutes after the president appeared on national television and announced the victory.

“Whatever the words or language used to describe it, this is truly an unparalleled victory. What our heroic troops have achieved is not only the capture of the great fortress of the LTTE, but a major victory in the world’s battle against terrorism,” the president said.

Troops advancing from various directions captured the well-fortified former rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi after overrunning a day ago the strategically important townships such as Paranthan and Iranaimadu, located on the northern and western ends of the six kilometre-long town built up along the Jaffna-Kandy highway.

President Rajapaksa cautioned that one must not belittle “this victory as one that has been won by one community over another” or misinterpret it “as defeat of the North by the South”.

“This is a victory for our entire nation and country. It is a decisive victory over savage terrorism that was playing around with the blood, muscle and sinews of humans. It is a victory over venomous separatism that sought to divide people on grounds of race and religion,” he said.

The fall of Kilinochchi marks the rebels’ biggest loss after the fall of the Jaffna peninsula 13 years ago, while it means a massive politico-military victory for the government which had already flushed the rebels out of their former strongholds in the east in 2007.

Defence experts say the recapture of Kilinochchi by the government troops would deal a major blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militarily and psychologically. The fall of Kilinochchi will shrink the LTTE-held areas further and confine them to the jungle district of Mullaitivu.

Hailing the cooperation of the people in his campaign against the rebels, President Rajapaksa urged them to continue with their commitment “until the final act of this false Eelam struggle is played to its finish in the small territory of jungle in Mullaitivu and the LTTE is fully and finally defeated”.

“I also wish to send a message; the final message to the LTTE, to lay down their arms and surrender,” he said.

Kilinochchi largely remains a symbolic target as the rebels have used it as the centre of their political, police and judicial branches, in their effort to portray to outsiders that they have all the frills of a separate state.

The town played host to numerous meetings between guerrilla leaders, visiting foreign diplomats and media following the Norwegian-brokered 2002 ceasefire agreement. However, the 2002 fragile truce effectively collapsed due to fresh escalation of violence three years ago and the government unilaterally pulled out of the truce pact in January last year.

President Rajapaksa had last week threatened to outlaw the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist group if they did not allow Tamils living in its control to move to government-held areas with the beginning of 2009.

There was no immediate word from the LTTE, which has been fighting against the Sri Lankan government for a quarter century to carve out a separate state for Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of the island.

Thousands have died since late 2005 in the escalating fight.

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