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Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 12:03 UK

Tamil Tiger sea base 'captured'

Mannar map

The Sri Lankan military says it has captured a key coastal town in the north-west from Tamil Tiger rebels.

The military says Vidattaltivu, about 20km (12 miles) from the town of Mannar, was used by the rebels' naval wing to smuggle in supplies from India.

The Tigers, who retain control of other bases further up the north-west coast, have not commented on the claims.

The rebels have been fighting for a separate state for the island's ethnic Tamil minority for a generation.

Fighting continuing

The defence ministry said Vidattaltivu had been captured by advancing soldiers on Wednesday morning.

It is the first time since Indian peace keeping forces left Sri Lanka in 1990 that troops have been in control of the town, a statement said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said some fighting was continuing and troops were carefully searching the town for remaining rebels.

Independent confirmation is impossible because the government has barred journalists from the war zone.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says Vidattaltivu has been a strategic goal of the military.

Our correspondent says it has been a base for the rebels' naval wing, the Sea Tigers, and a hub for smuggling in supplies from India on the other side of the narrow Palk Strait.

Fighting has intensified in Sri Lanka as soldiers continue a slow advance, aiming to crush the Tigers' de facto mini state in the north.

Both sides claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on the other.

The rebels have fought for a generation for a homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority who have faced marginalisation by successive governments dominated by the majority Sinhalese.

Sri Lanka's army chief, Lieutenant-General Sarath Fonseka has said it will take another year to capture territory held by the Tigers - and even then an insurgency could last forever.



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