Sri Lankan army says overruns Tiger town in Jaffna
Sri Lankan troops overran a Tamil Tiger-held town and the air force destroyed rebel boats in an intensifying battle for the separatists' last redoubt on the strategic Jaffna Peninsula, the military said on Thursday.
In the second major attack on the media this week, a gunman on a motorcycle shot the editor of a newspaper critical of the government. The editor, who was in his car at the time, was in a critical condition with head injuries, reported Reuters.
Troops are sandwiching the Tigers from the north and south on the 6-km (4-mile) wide neck of the northern peninsula that connects it to the rest of the Indian Ocean island. They have pounded the rebels from both directions since Tuesday.
"Troops captured Pallai today, going forward from yesterday's positions, and are getting closer to Elephant Pass," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. "There are small pockets of fighting and the terrorists are withdrawing."
Pallai is a village on the northern front being attacked by two divisions, about 8 km (5 miles) north of Elephant Pass.
Elephant Pass is a strategic former army base at the entry to Jaffna that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) captured in 2000 in a stinging defeat for the army.
No casualties have been reported so far, Nanayakkara said.
War planes early on Thursday blew up two large boats in the Chundikulam lagoon to the east of Elephant Pass, and earlier on Wednesday attacked reinforcements constructing defenses nearby, air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said.
Chundikulam is on the other very narrow isthmus linking Jaffna to the main island, located on the east coast.
The military has made more progress than at any time in the 25-year war, one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies. Last week, troops captured the Tigers' self-proclaimed capital of Kilinochchi in a major blow for the LTTE's separatist ambitions.
The LTTE had proclaimed Kilinochchi capital of the separate state it wants to create for Tamils. Many Tamils have complained of unfair treatment by successive governments led by the Sinhalese majority since independence from Britain in 1948.
Underscoring the danger for journalists in Sri Lanka, the chief editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was badly wounded by an unknown gunman.
"The gunman smashed the window of the vehicle and shot at him," brother Lal Wickramatunga told Reuters.
The Sunday Leader has been locked in a court battle with the president's brother, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, over stories it published criticizing the handling of the war and alleging defense procurement corruption.