Security forces fought pitched battles with the Tamil Tigers and seized control of more rebel defences near their political capital in northern Sri Lanka, the defence ministry said on Friday.
Troops mounted three frontal assaults against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the main battle for Kilinochchi, the rebels’ de facto capital, on Thursday, the ministry said.
The defence ministry has stopped releasing details of casualties among its own troops but said security forces recovered the bodies of four Tiger rebels killed in Thursday’s clashes. There was no immediate comment from the Tigers.
The military said government forces smashed a key Tamil Tiger defence line at Muhamalai in the far north and also seized an airfield, piling new pressure on the shrinking jungle mini-state.
Government troops took a near five-kilometre (three-mile) fortified bunker line from the LTTE on the Jaffna peninsula after five days of fierce fighting, the defence ministry said.
However, fresh fighting erupted along the Kilaly-Muhamalai defence lines on Friday morning, the army said in a statement. It said a “few soldiers” suffered injuries during the latest confrontation.
“Friday’s pre-dawn confrontations with Tigers at Muhamalai and Kilaly resulted in losses to Tiger infrastructure,” the army said, adding troops were “now in full control of the first line of the LTTE forward defence line”.
“A few soldiers also sustained injuries following explosions of anti-personnel mines, left buried by retreating Tiger terrorists in the area.”
The defence ministry said the new offensive stance from the northern sector began earlier this week.
Meanwhile, the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website said: “The Sri Lanka army soldiers who were sent on an offensive mission into the no-go zone in Kalily and Muhamalai were trained for a ‘do-or-die’ mission.”
Some 130 government soldiers were killed and another 450 wounded in this week’s fighting, the website said.
Sri Lankan authorities, who pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the rebels at the start of the year, have been on the offensive against the Tigers for several months.
The defence ministry said troops from Jaffna were now “heading further southwards” towards Kilinochchi while troops were approaching the town from its southern flank.
Sri Lankan authorities have restricted access to the embattled areas for journalists as well as for most aid workers, meaning that claims by either side in the decades-old conflict are normally impossible to independently verify.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the LTTE’s campaign for a separate homeland for the island’s minority Tamils since 1972.
Several political attempts to end the fighting had failed.