Sri Lankan troops capture rebel stronghold on north-eastern coast

Government troops entered a coastal stronghold of Tamil rebels Thursday as fighting intensified in the north-eastern part of Sri Lanka, reports from the war zone said.

Security forces entered the Chalai area, 395 kilometres north-east of the capital, amidst resistance from the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are putting up a final effort to prevent troops from entering the last areas under their control, reproted dpa.

The main base of the sea unit of the LTTE was located in Chalai, but there was no immediate confirmation from the military whether they had overrun the base during the fighting.

The military claimed that at least three senior rebels were killed in the fighting.

As the fighting intensified civilians also have been moving towards the remaining coastal areas controlled by the LTTE, but the areas were further south of Chalai which troops entered.

On Thursday the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helped to relocate a hospital which had been coming under regular shell attacks.

The hospital located at Pudukudirippu, 385 kilometres north-east of the capital, had been under periodic shell attacks until Wednesday when it was relocated further north-east.

"All patients and equipment are now located in an area known as Puthumalan and all civilians in the former area too are coming there. One of the problems in this area is that there is not enough water in this area," ICRC official Sarasi Wijeratne said.

Meanwhile, a medical doctor based in another makeshift hospital, speaking from the north by telephone, said that they were located some two kilometers from the front line and could hear the sounds of regular firing between the security forces and the rebels.

In separate development, air force fighter jets bombed some of the rebel positions close to Pudukudirippu town on Thursday.

A military spokesman said that one of them was a communication centre and the other was a command centre of the LTTE.

Some 250,000 civilians are said to be trapped in the areas of fighting, according to the UN and the ICRC, but government estimates that the figure to be around 150,000.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday said he was confident that the rebels could be decisively defeated in the "next few days."

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