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Army 'takes more Tiger territory'

Sri Lankan troops near Elephant Pass, army pic released 7 Jan
Sri Lankan troops moving south on the Jaffna peninsula

Sri Lankan troops say they have taken more territory from Tamil Tiger rebels in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The army says troops seized the town of Pallai, a key Tiger position, after heavy fighting, and that it hopes to capture the entire north soon.

Pallai is south of Muhamalai, the northernmost defensive line of the rebels in Jaffna, which the troops captured on Tuesday.

The Tigers have not yet commented on the latest fighting in Jaffna.

Military spokesman, Brig Udaya Nanayakkara, said troops had encountered small pockets of resistance as the army advanced about 5km (3 miles) south from Muhamalai into the former rebel stronghold of Pallai. He said the Tigers had pulled back their heavy guns.

The main aim of the army is to open Elephant Pass, which links the Jaffna peninsula to the mainland. Government troops are already at the southern end.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo reports that the military has said the Tigers appear to be abandoning their positions on the Jaffna peninsula to make a last stand in the jungles of Mullaitivu, their last main base.

Outlawed

The Tigers' administrative and political capital, Kilinochchi, fell last week.

Earlier this week, the Tigers' political head, B Nadesan, dismissed the fall of Kilinochchi as "an insignificant setback in the context of a liberation struggle".

Sri Lankan troops
The army has also been advancing north after taking Kilinochchi

"Kilinochchi town was captured more than once by the Sri Lanka military earlier. Similarly, we have also recaptured the town on earlier occasions," Mr Nadesan said in an interview with the pro-rebel TamilNet website on Monday.

Correspondents say the fall of Pallai is another blow for the Tigers, who are being harried by the government's offensive.

Air force jets also attacked two camouflaged rebel boats in a lagoon east of Elephant Pass on Thursday, military sources said.

In recent years, the Tigers set up a de facto state in the north of Sri Lanka, squeezed between government-controlled Jaffna in the far north and the rest of the country to the south.

A major military offensive has now advanced rapidly from the south, forcing the rebels to give up much of their territory.

Our correspondent says the latest fighting comes after Sri Lanka's cabinet voted to formally outlaw the rebels.

A ban had been lifted in 2002 around the time of a failed ceasefire, and never reinstated.

The move is largely symbolic, he says, as government officials have already vowed to destroy the Tigers and end their fight for a separate state for the Tamil minority.

The rebels have been fighting for the separate homeland for the past 25 years. At least 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

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