Sri Lankan troops capture Elephant Pass (Lead)

January 9th, 2009 - 7:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 9 (IANS) Sri Lankan troops Friday captured Elephant Pass, a major stronghold of Tamil Tiger rebels in the northern Jaffna peninsula, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced.Elephant Pass, lying about 12 km away from Kilinochchi on the Jaffna-Kandy main highway, is the isthmus that connects the northern Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the country.

Encouraged by their latest success of capturing Kilinochchi town, the politico-administrative town of the LTTE, the ground troops backed by armour, artillery and aerial bombardment had advanced from various directions towards Elephant Pass. The soldiers faced fierce LTTE resistance.

Kilinochchi town, which was re-taken last week, is located 350 km north of here.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told IANS earlier Friday that the troops advancing along the northern end of the A-9 Jaffna-Kandy main highway “have already captured Iyakachchi”.

Iyakachchi is a small town lying a few kilometres north of Elephant Pass.

Elephant Pass is the last LTTE stronghold on the A-9 main highway and its fall would enable the military to re-open the Jaffna-Kandy supply route for people and troops there from the south to the north.

The troops in Jaffna would no longer be relying on supplies through ships. The transport on ships was very costly for the military.

The A-9 main highway that links the northern Jaffna peninsula with the other parts of the island was opened for people after nearly a decade with the signing of the February 2002 Norwegian brokered truce pact between the LTTE and then government of Sri Lanka.

But its northern most entry/exit point Muhamalai faced closure in August 2006 with the troops and the rebels operating in their respective forward defences making several attempts to advance into each other’s territories, leaving several combatants dead and wounded.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) captured the former military garrison of Elephant Pass in April 2000 and it was then considered a major success for the rebels.

The military regaining control of the garrison would mean that the rebels have virtually lost dominance in the north and would be confined to the chunk between west of Kilinochchi and the jungle district of Mullaitivu.

The LTTE 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.

Sri Lanka Wednesday banned the LTTE with immediate effect and said that the rebel outfit would face all the consequences as a terrorist organization.

Thousands have died since late 2005 in the escalating fight.

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