Page last updated at 17:57 GMT, Thursday, 5 February 2009

Key Tamil Tiger sea base 'falls'

File picture of Sri Lankan soldier
The military is tightening its control of remaining rebel areas

The Sri Lankan army says it has captured the last major naval base of Tamil Tiger rebels in the north-east of the island.

It says that about 15 rebel fighters - including three senior commanders - were killed in the fighting at Chalai.

There has been no independent confirmation of the report, and no comment from the rebels.

Earlier, the government said there would be no ceasefire with the rebels, despite international calls for talks.

Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said that with the capture of Chalai, the army had now brought almost all the rebel naval bases on the eastern coast under its control.

He said the deputy leader of the rebel Sea Tigers unit was among the senior commanders killed in the fighting.

1976: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam form in the north-east
1987: India deploys peace-keepers to Tamil areas but they leave in 1990
1993: President Premadasa killed by Tiger bomb
2001: Attack on airport destroys half Sri Lankan Airlines fleet
2002: Government and rebels agree ceasefire
2005: Mahinda Rajapaksa becomes president
2006: Heavy fighting resumes
2009: Army takes main rebel bases of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu

The spokesman further added that troops were now trying to subdue remaining rebel resistance in the area.

The military has already made it clear it is in charge of the seas, following the last major clash between the two sides last month in which the navy said four rebel boats had been sunk.

The rebels are boxed in by troops in a shrinking piece of territory in the north-east. The military says they control just a few miles of coastline.

Meanwhile aid agencies have continued to express concern over the plight of civilians caught up in the conflict. The government says more than 1,500 people have crossed from rebel-held areas to government-controlled territory in the past four days.

Earlier, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa ruled out any chance of the Tamil Tigers negotiating a surrender.

"There is no question of negotiations on surrender. The rebels should surrender unconditionally. They should lay down their arms first."

He rejected any amnesty for top rebel leaders, but said that "lower level cadres" would be "given amnesty, retrained, given vocational training and integrated into mainstream society".

Civilian fears

Mr Rajapaksa also dismissed US-led calls for a ceasefire, saying that the rebels had used ceasefire time "only to regroup and attack security forces".

Sri Lankan soldiers at Mullaitivu
The Sri Lankan military has vowed to crush the rebels

His comments came days after donors called on the rebels to consider laying down arms in order to end the bloodshed.

The Tigers say they will not lay down their arms until they have a "guarantee of living with freedom and dignity and sovereignty".

There are fears for about 250,000 civilians who may be trapped by the fighting.

On Thursday pro-rebel websites again accused the army of shelling a hospital following similar claims throughout the week.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said that 52 civilians had been killed in 24 hours of fighting.


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