Sri Lankan army captures LTTE’s strategic naval bastion (Lead)

November 15th, 2008 - 1:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Nov 15 (IANS) Sri Lanka Saturday claimed that its advancing troops backed by artillery bombardment had entered the Tamil Tiger rebels’ naval bastion of Pooneryn in the island’s north. Pitched battles between the two sides is on and the rebels were withdrawing, the defence ministry said.”Troops of Army Task Force 1 have entered the LTTE bastion of Pooneryn this morning,” the defence ministry announced Saturday.

It said that its troops had advanced along the northwestern coastal belt of the island and “successfully negotiated the great marshlands south of Pooneryn last (Friday) night and cut off the Pooneryn-Paranthan road (B-69) close to Nallur before dawn of Saturday”.

“According to the defence sources in the field, the terrorists gave stiff resistance to the advancing troops. Pitched battles are still going on in the area,” the ministry said, adding that the rebels were withdrawing towards the K-Point.

Pooneryn is known to be the last major LTTE naval point on the western coastal belt, from where the rebels in the past have used their long-range artillery and mortar guns to fire at military targets.

The LTTE captured Pooneryn in November 1993 after overrunning a military base there. Hundreds of troops were killed and the rebels took away a large haul of military equipments, including long-range heavy weapons during the attack in 1993. Since then the rebels have been using this point and the adjoining lagoons for various activities, mainly to launch attack on troops manning the borders of the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The fresh military claims came as the ruling coalition of Mahinda Rajapaksa is facing a crucial vote in parliament Saturday on its fourth budget, which proposed to hike defence spending by nearly seven percent to a record of 177.1 billion Sri Lankan rupees (approx $1.6 billion) in 2009 from 166.44 billion rupees in 2008.

It is a crucial time of the year for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as well, as the rebel group commemorates its fallen cadres during the third week of November and the week-long event culminates with the annual speech by its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, which is considered the policy statement of the outfit for the coming year.

Sri Lankan troops backed by artillery and aerial bombardment have advanced deep into the rebel-held areas amid fierce LTTE resistance. Vowing to capture the rebel’s ‘administrative capital’ of Kilinochchi, the military brass claimed last week that troops were operating just a few kilometres from Kilinochchi town, which is about 350 km from Colombo.

The LTTE has been fighting against the Sri Lankan government to carve out a separate state for Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of the island for a quarter century.

Thousands have died and many more have been displaced due to escalating fighting between the army and LTTE since late 2005.

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