Sri Lankan military seizes key Tamil stronghold
Sri Lankan troops have dismantled the last rebel defense on the island's west coast, securing a land route to the northern peninsula in a key victory against Tamil Tiger separatists, the government said, according to AP.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a televised speech hailed Saturday's capture of the town of Pooneryn and urged the rebels to lay down their arms and surrender.
Rajapaksa said the latest military success means troops can access the previously isolated, government-controlled Jaffna peninsula by land, instead of depending on boats and aircraft.
The military has had no land link to Jaffna in the north for more than a decade, and the newly captured road gives soldiers an alternative to the main highway, which remains under rebel control.
Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the peninsula's main military base no longer falls within the rebel artillery range. Nearly 40,000 soldiers are believed to be housed on the base. He also said the victory means Tamil Tigers can no longer access the west coast.
Retired army commander Jerry de Silva said the capture of Pooneryn will help government troops open up an alternative front to attack the rebels' de facto capital, Kilinochchi, which has eluded the military for weeks.
Rebel officials could not be contacted for comment because most communication lines to guerrilla territory have been severed.
The government has vowed to crush the rebels and end their decades-old separatist campaign by the end of the year.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for the country's ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.