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Sri Lanka rebel HQ 'to fall soon'

Government troops near Kilinochchi. File pic
The army says that it is on the verge of victory

The Sri Lankan army has said that the capture of the Tamil Tiger rebels' stronghold of Kilinochchi is imminent.

Kilinochchi is the rebels' de facto capital in the north and troops have been attacking it from three directions since Sunday morning.

The rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland for Tamils in the north and east since 1983 and 70,000 people have died in the violence.

The Tamil Tigers have not yet commented on the army claims.

The pro-rebel TamilNet website on Wednesday had no reports from the battleground, instead focusing on the fourth day of heavy rainfall in the north which has resulted in widespread power cuts.

"The fall of Kilinochchi is very imminent," defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

The spokesman said the rebels appeared to be retreating.

KEY DATES IN THE WAR
1983: 13 soldiers killed in one of the first rebel attacks
1990: Indian troops leave after unsuccessful peacekeeping mission
1991: Tamil Tigers assassinate Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi
1993: President Premadasa killed in Tamil Tiger attack
1998: Rebels capture Kilinochchi
2000: Rebels capture key Elephant Pass base
2001: Rebel attack on Colombo airport
2002: Ceasefire leads to inconclusive peace talks
2005-2008: Fighting intensifies in north and east

Heavy fighting has been going on in the area for the past few days as the Sri Lankan military makes a final push to claim the territory.

The defence ministry has said in a statement that its soldiers are also closing in on Mullaitivu, where the rebels are believed to have concentrated their forces following recent army advances elsewhere in the north.

"Troops of the 59th division advancing towards the Tigers' most strategic commanding base in the north-eastern coastal belt, Mullaitivu, are further consolidating and extending their defences," the ministry said.

On Tuesday the army said troops had captured the village of Olumadu, on the A34 road to Mullaitivu.

TamilNet on Tuesday released photos of "dead soldiers" from the fighting around Kilinochchi.

Correspondents say the photos - if genuine - are the first to be publicly released of the weekend offensive by the army to capture Kilinochchi.

Tensions are also running high in the east, where police say at least nine people, including two soldiers, were killed in separate incidents on Tuesday.

Tamil Tiger with a machine gun
The rebels are keeping silent

It was the greatest loss of life in a single day for months in the east.

The eastern region is governed by a coalition led by a party that defected from the Tamil Tigers, known as Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP).

The campaign group, Human Rights Watch, alleges that the TMVP is responsible for some of the recent killings and abductions.

Correspondents say that with the battle raging in the north, some view the increase in attacks on security forces in the east as a diversionary tactic by the rebels.

On Thursday the Tigers' leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is to deliver his only speech of the year as the rebels commemorate their dead.

MAP OF THE REGION
Map of northern Sri Lanka




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