The Sri Lankan government said Wednesday its troops were poised to capture the Tamil Tigers’ political headquarters and were advancing on the remaining rebel military bases in the north of the island.
Government officials said heavy fighting was raging on three fronts around the northern town of Kilinochchi, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam‘s (LTTE) political headquarters, and that the town would soon fall.
“There is fierce fighting going on but the fall of Kilinochchi is imminent. Security forces will soon consolidate in Kilinochchi,” the government’s defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters in Colombo.
The stepping up of the government’s offensive coincides with the LTTE’s “Heroes’ week” — held each year to commemorate 22,000 ethnic Tamils who have died in the drawn-out struggle for a homeland in Sinhalese-majority Sri Lanka.
The Tigers‘ besieged leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was meanwhile reported to have cancelled ceremonies marking his 54th birthday. He is expected to make his annual policy statement on Thursday.
“At a time when people are suffering due to the war of invasion by the Sinhala chauvinistic government, the Tamil national leader has called for the cancellation of his birthday celebrations,” said the pro-rebel Puthinam.com website.
The defence ministry said its soldiers were also closing on the northeastern coastal town of Mullaittivu, where the LTTE is believed to have concentrated forces following recent government gains elsewhere in the north.
“Troops of the 59th division advancing towards the LTTE’s most strategic commanding base in (the) northeastern coastal belt, Mullaittivu… are further consolidating and extending their defences,” the ministry said in a statement.
It said the strategic village of Olumadu, along a main road to Mullaittivu, also fell into government hands after intense fighting.
Authorities in Sri Lanka have restricted access to the embattled areas for journalists as well as most aid workers, meaning that claims by either side in the decades-old conflict are normally impossible to verify.
The military had also said its troops had moved to the outskirts of Kilinochchi two months ago, but appeared to have been blunted by stiff Tiger resistance.
Another pro-rebel website, Pathivu.com, said that resistance was still in place, releasing pictures of seven government troops said to have been killed by the Tigers in a battle on Sunday.
Still, the past 18 months have been disastrous for the LTTE, who want to carve out an ethnic homeland in the north and east of the island.
The rebels were ejected from the east in July 2007 and lost their political chief in a government air raid, while much of their fleet of ships used to smuggle black market weapons into the country has been reported sunk.
Violence was also reported from what the government describes as the “liberated” east, with the military reporting that 12 people, including three suspected Tiger rebels, had been killed in fresh violence on Tuesday night.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said it observed an upsurge in violence in the east and had documented 30 cases of extra-judicial killings in September and October and 30 cases of abductions, including children to be used as child soldiers.
The rights group blamed the violence on a grouping of former Tamil Tiger fighters who are now allied to the government.