Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Saturday, 3 January 2009

Colombo pushes into Tiger areas

Sri Lankan troops in Paranthan on 1/01/09
Government troops have been advancing on Kilinochchi for months

Sri Lankan forces say they are pressing on with their offensive on the Tamil Tigers rebels, a day after capturing their de facto capital, Kilinochchi.

The defence ministry said troops were moving towards Mullaitivu, another northern town where the rebels are known to have military facilities.

In a statement the defence ministry said the battle for Mullaitivu had already begun.

Meanwhile a blast has injured three people in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.

The explosion happened in the commercial quarter of Pettah, police said.

It comes a day after a suicide bomber killed two people in the city.

Correspondents say losing Kilinochchi is a heavy blow for the rebels.

The town is of huge symbolic importance to the Tigers, who had assembled there the trappings of the separate state they want for the ethnic Tamil minority.

We should pay the gratitude of the whole nation to those heroic soldiers who achieved that victory
President Mahinda Rajapaksa

The Sri Lankan army has for months been advancing towards Kilinochchi, which has been in the hands of rebels for the last decade.

Both sides have recently claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other in the north of the island.

But there have been no independent reports from the front line and it is impossible to verify either account of casualties.

Bitter fighting

"We should pay the gratitude of the whole nation to those heroic soldiers who achieved that victory," President Rajapaksa said in a nationally televised address announcing the capture of Kilinochchi.

He urged the rebel fighters to lay down their arms.

The pro-Tamil website TamilNet confirmed the occupation of Kilinochchi, but said troops had entered a "virtual ghost town" as the civilian population and rebels shifted further north-east.

It said most of the buildings in the town had been destroyed by continuous military strikes and added that rebel casualties had been kept low despite the fighting.

map of northern sri lanka

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