Sri Lankan military liberates key town

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Sri Lankan troops liberated a key town in Eastern Sri Lanka as they continued their offensive to evict the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, also called the Tamil Tigers) from the Eastern Province of the country.

The town of Vakarai, which has been under the control of the LTTE since 1996, was a key stronghold for the LTTE and one of their last major bases in the East. Sri Lankan troops met little resistance as they moved into the town at around noon local time, as the Tamil Tigers were believed to have fled further North.

A Sri Lankan defense ministry statement on its website said the LTTE had fled the town area "unable to withstand the intrusive thrust of the armed forces". A statement from the Media Center for National Security said "triumphant troops are presently consolidating their positions and clearing the terrain to resettle displace civilians."

The Tigers have so far failed to comment on the fighting.

Leading up to the capture of the town, around 12,000 civilians, whom the government claimed the LTTE were using as Human Shields, were reported to have fled to the safety of government controlled areas. This added to the 20,000 who had already fled to government controlled areas since heavy fighting began in December 2006.

Basic necessities for them were provided by the security forces. The government stated that it would make all efforts to resettle the civilians as soon as normalcy is restored in the town.

The fall of Vakarai is expected to badly disrupt Tamil Tiger activities in the East, an also seriously dent their supplies to the North.

Long-running conflict

The LTTE has been fighting since 1983 to establish an independent state in the North and East of Sri Lanka. Its methods including the recruiting of child soldiers and suicide bombings have been widely criticized, and it is banned as a terrorist organization in a number of countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Canada and the 27-member European Union. A ceasefire agreement was signed with intentional mediation in 2001, but broke down following a series of rebel attacks on government troops following the election of President Mahinda Rajapakse in November 2005.

In December, Sri Lankan Army commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka made clear that the objective of the military was to clear the East of the country of the rebels and then concentrate all efforts towards defeating them in the North.

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