Page last updated at 22:17 GMT, Sunday, 25 January 2009

Last Tamil Tiger bastion 'taken'

Sri Lankan troops (file photo: January 2009)
The government has won a string of military victories in recent months

Sri Lankan troops have captured the last Tamil Tiger rebel stronghold of Mullaitivu in the north-east of the island, the country's army chief says.

On Sri Lankan TV, Lt Gen Sarath Fonsek said troops had "completely captured" Mullaitivu after a month of fighting.

There has been no comment from the Tamil Tigers, who have suffered a series of reverses in recent months.

The government has vowed to crush the rebels, who have been fighting for a separate homeland for 25 years.

At least 70,000 people have been killed during the insurgency.

Stall tactics

Announcing the capture of Mullaitivu, the general said victory in the area would render the conflict with the Tigers "95% over", the Associated Press reported.

"We have completely captured Mullaitivu," he said.

Firecrackers were set off in celebrations around the capital, Colombo, as the army commander's speech was shown on TV.

Earlier, a government spokesman said troops from the 59th division had entered Mullaitivu and that it was "a matter of time before they take full control of the area".

Tamil Tiger rebels blasted through the walls of a reservoir on Saturday in an attempt to stall the advancing troops, the military said.

There is no way of confirming any of the claims as independent journalists are barred from conflict zone.

The BBC's Anbarasan Ethirajan in Colombo says the fall of the last main town under the Tigers' control would deprive the group of a crucial military base.

The government has won a string of military victories in recent months, including the capture of the rebels' de facto capital of Kilinochchi, cornering the rebels into a tiny pocket of territory in the island's north-east.

I wish the world knew more on the basics of the conflict, rather than knowing what happened yesterday or today.
Ranjit Kumar, Waukesha

However, even with its strong advances, the rebels have shown on many occasions their capacity to fight a guerrilla war operating from secret jungle bases.

It is not clear what has happened to the residents of Mullaitivu.

Earlier this week the military said it had designated a safe zone for civilians as it pushed ahead with its offensive in the area.

But as the fighting intensifies, aid agencies have expressed growing concern for the safety of 250,000 civilians reportedly trapped inside the conflict zones.

Many Tamils warn that the capture of territory from the rebels alone will not end the ethnic conflict and that they need a political solution for a lasting peace, our correspondent says.

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