Sri Lankan troops enter Tigers’ last major bastion (Third Lead)

January 25th, 2009 - 8:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 25 (IANS) Sri Lankan troops Sunday fought their way into the northeastern town of Mullaitivu, the last major bastion of the Tamil Tigers, a day after the rebels blasted a tank bund and flooded the land hoping to delay the military advance, the army said.Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said soldiers from the 59 Division were now “carrying out operations inside the town area”, adding that its population had fled the zone before the military entered.

There was still no sign of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the founder leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“Today our troops entered Mullaitivu town area from the northern end. The LTTE cadres offered heavy resistance but our troops have successfully entered the town,” Nanayakkara told IANS.

He said the soldiers were advancing further into the rebel-held areas, countering efforts to stop the troop movement. The LTTE cadres “are now confined to a small area, between Vishwamadhu and Puthukkudiyiruppu”, he added.

There was no immediate comment from the LTTE in this regard.

The defence ministry said troops of 593 Brigade led by Lieutenant Colonel Jayantha Gunarathne “made a surprise attack across the Nanthikandal lagoon and entered the Mullaitivu town area this morning”.

“Infantrymen of 7 Gemunu Watch led by Lieutenant Colonel Chaminda Lamahewa were the first to enter the town amid heavy terror resistance,” it said.

The defence ministry said that the LTTE blasted off the Kalamadukulam Tank bund Saturday “in a desperate attempt to stall the multi-frontal military surge towards Vishwamadu area”.

It said the LTTE cadres “have used high explosives and triggered the detonation flooding a section of the A-35 Paranthan - Mullaitivu main road, Ramanathapuram, Dharmapuram and Vishwamadu”.

“Kalamadukulam Tank, the second largest in the embattled region, spreads over 4.5 sq km with a capacity of supplementing irrigation water to over 500 acres of land. The tank was at spill level due to the recent northeast monsoon,” the ministry said Saturday, adding that the rebels had resorted to this tactic after suffering heavy beating by the security forces during intense fighting.

Mullaitivu town is situated in a narrow stretch of a land between Nanthikandal lagoon and the Indian Ocean. The town fell to the LTTE in 1996. Since then the LTTE established its main military base there.

The troops’ foray into Mullaitivu caps a string of military victories for the Sri Lankan army. After capturing the entire eastern province in July 2007 from the LTTE, Sri Lankan troops began their operation in the north in September from the northwestern Manner district.

By December 2008, the troops had fully seized the western coastal belt from the rebels, from northwestern Mannar district up to Pooneryn.

Kilinochchi, the politico-military hub of the LTTE, fell at the start of 2009. The same week, the troops advanced further north and re-captured the 100-acre garrison at the Elephant Pass, the isthmus to the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The capture of the Elephant Pass saw the government taking full control of the 325-km Jaffna-Kandy highway for the first time in 23 long years.

Prabhakaran, who founded the LTTE in 1976, is known to have deep and seemingly secure underground caves and bunkers in the dense forests of Mullaitivu, from where he oversaw the war against Indian troops in Sri Lanka’s northeast in 1987-90.

The whereabouts of the elusive rebel chief are not known.

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