Sri Lankan troops capture LTTE airstrip in Mullaitivu

January 10th, 2009 - 7:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 10 (IANS) Striking another blow against the Tamil Tigers, advancing Sri Lankan troops Saturday captured a rebel airstrip in the jungle district of Mullaitivu, a day after dislodging the LTTE from the Jaffna-Kandy main highway in the north, military officials said.Claiming that this was the fourth Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) airstrip to be captured by the troops in the recent past, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the troops captured the area lying 10 km west of Mullaitivu town.

“The runway was about 2.5 km long and 100 metres wide. The troops captured it along with two empty armour-plated hangars, five km west of Mullaitivu lagoon,” Nanayakkara told IANS Saturday.

There was no immediate reaction from the LTTE, who are believed to be in possession of an unknown number of Czech-built Zlin Z-143 light wing aircraft and have carried out dozens of night air raids targeting the military installations in the past.

The last rebel air attack was on Oct 29 last year when two LTTE light aircraft flew out of their hideouts in the north and dropped bombs at a power plant station in Kelaniya, Colombo, and at a military base in the north-western Mannar district simultaneously.

The capture of the LTTE airstrip came a day after Sri Lankan troops Friday recaptured the 100-acre Elephant Pass garrison, taking total control of the entire stretch of the A-9 Jaffna-Kandy main highway after nine years.

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

Describing it as “another great and historic victory” of the military under his regime, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, Friday said that it was for the first time in 23 long years that the government has secured full control of the 325 km long main supply route to the north.

Confident after retaking control of the main highway and the LTTE’s main strongholds along the highway such as Kilinochchi, Paranthan, Elephant Pass and Muhamalai in quick succession, the troops, backed by armour, artillery and aerial bombardment began to concentrate fully on mounting attacks on Mullaitivu, where the rebels maintain their last major bastions.

The defence ministry said Saturday that troops operating to the west of Kilinochchi town have found 14 dead bodies of the LTTE along with a cache of military hardware.

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 between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan army.

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