Surrender, Rajapaksa urges LTTE as troops capture rebel bastion (Second Lead)

November 15th, 2008 - 3:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Nov 15 (IANS) Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa Saturday urged the Tamil Tiger rebels to lay down weapons and come for talks, hours after his troops declared they had captured the rebels’ last major naval bastion in the island’s north. The advancing troops backed by artillery bombardment had entered the Tamil Tiger rebels’ naval bastion of Pooneryn in the north, and the defence ministry said that pitched battles between the two sides were on and the rebels were withdrawing.

President Rajapaksa, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, in a televised address to the nation Saturday morning announced the capture of Pooneryn and said that the troops were now in a position to open a land route to Jaffna (A-32) along the coastal belt nearly after two decades.

“I clearly tell the LTTE and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran at this moment to lay down all their weapons and come for talks with us immediately. Laying down of weapons and surrendering will be a great service he could do for the people in the north,” Rajapaksa said in his address, minutes after heading a National Security Council Meeting at his official residence, Temple Trees.

Rajapaksa also thanked the three forces for their effort and success, and the people for their support.

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 defence ministry said Saturday: “Troops of Army Task Force 1 have entered the LTTE bastion of Pooneryn this morning.” It said the 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.

There was no immediate reaction from the LTTE on the latest military claims.

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.

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.

It is a crucial time of the year for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as well. 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.

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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