Sri Lankan troops seize Elephant Pass, control key highway (Roundup)

January 9th, 2009 - 10:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 9 (IANS) The Tamil Tigers suffered another blow when Sri Lankan troops captured the Elephant Pass garrison Friday, securing full control of a vital highway after a decade, President Mahinda Rajapaksa announced to wild celebrations across the island nation. The latest victory came exactly a week after the military wrested control of Kilinochchi, the political hub of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“By this evening our troops have completely freed the Elephant Pass area from the LTTE. Similarly, bringing Point Pedro and Devundara (Dondra Head) together, the A-9 route has been completely freed from the clutches of the LTTE,” Rajapaksa said in a televised address to the nation.

The winding A-9 highway links Jaffna in the extreme north to the rest of the country. Until Kilinochchi fell, a part of the highway was held by the LTTE, forcing Colombo to use ships and planes to transport all supplies to soldiers in the in the peninsula.

Military officials said that ground troops backed by armour, artillery and air support advanced from various directions towards the Elephant Pass despite strong resistance from the LTTE.

With the military regaining control of the garrison, the rebels have virtually lost dominance in the island’s north, until recently their stronghold. They will now be confined to an area between the east of Kilinochchi and the largely forested district of Mullaitivu.

The news of the Friday victory was celebrated by thousands in Colombo and elsewhere in the country.

People poured out of their homes in large numbers and burst firecrackers. News of similar celebrations came from other parts of the country as well, minutes after the president appeared on national television.

Describing it as “another great and historic victory”, Rajapaksa said it was for the first time in 23 years that the government had taken full control of the 142-km long Jaffna-Kandy main supply route.

Kilinochchi town, which the LTTE lost Jan 2, is located 350 km north of Colombo. Elephant Pass, about 12 km from Kilinochchi on the Jaffna-Kandy highway, is a narrow isthmus that connects Jaffna peninsula to mainland Sri Lanka.

The capture of the pass will enable the military to reopen the Jaffna-Kandy route for the public and troops moving from the south to the north and vice versa. Troops in Jaffna would no longer have to rely on supplies through ships.

The LTTE captured Elephant Pass in April 2000. At that time it was seen as a major success for the rebels.

Highlighting the importance of securing control of the highway, the president said the LTTE had made “several million rupees from the fraudulent taxes they imposed on the people who used the A9 route”.

“Our people had the misfortune at that time to live in the face of such humiliation. This part of our history will never be forgotten by us,” said Rajapaksa.

He added that the troops were not only engaged in freeing the territories held by the Tigers but also “in the great humanitarian battle to bring peace, freedom and democracy to the Tamil people of the north”.

Rajapaksa charged that although people across Sri Lanka greeted the victory of the troops, “there are efforts to belittle these victories, to turn the attention of the people to other directions.

“There is a conspiracy with certain international forces to achieve this sinister objective,” he said, but stopped short of naming anyone.

There was no immediate word from the LTTE, which has been fighting to carve out a separate state for Tamils in the northern and eastern parts of the island.

Thousands have died since late 2005 in escalating fight between the Tigers and the military.

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