National Flag Hoisted by Major General Jagath Dias in Kilinochchi.
Sri Lanka said Friday its troops had finally captured the unofficial capital of the Tamil Tigers and urged the rebels to lay down their arms and end their decades-old struggle for a separate homeland.
But just hours after President Mahinda Rajapakse announced the news, a suspected Tiger suicide bomber attacked an air force base in the capital Colombo, killing at least two airmen and injuring 36 others.
Rajapakse had earlier called the army’s capture of Kilinochchi an “unparalleled victory” for the entire nation.
“For the last time, I am telling the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to lay down arms and surrender,” he said in a nationwide broadcast.
Street celebrations took place in the capital Colombo and elsewhere as news of the town’s capture broke.
The Tigers admitted losing Kilinochchi.
“The Sri Lanka army has entered a virtual ghost town as the whole civilian infrastructure as well as the centre of the LTTE had shifted further northeast,” the Tigers said through the pro-rebel Tamilnet website.
The loss of Kilinochchi — the political headquarters of their northern mini-state for the past 10 years — is a huge blow for the Tigers, and Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka predicted all-out victory over the rebels.
“It won’t take a year to finish them off, to eliminate them,” Fonseka said, adding that taking Kilinochchi was the culmination of a major offensive that began in March 2007. Daily fighting escalated in the past nine months.
He said ground troops were heading to flush out the remaining pockets of the LTTE, while war planes carried out 10 bombing sorties over the northeastern district of Mullaittivu, to which the Tigers had retreated.
The brutal Sri Lankan conflict over the Tigers’ demand for a separate Tamil homeland has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1972.
President Rajapakse pulled out of a ceasefire deal last year and vowed to crush the Tigers once and for all.
Since then, the rebels have been on the defensive, losing strongholds in the east of the island last year and steadily retreating in the north.
Rajapakse had vowed Thursday in a New Year’s address that 2009 would see a final “heroic victory” over the rebels.
United Nations agencies and other international aid groups previously had offices in Kilinochchi, but pulled out late last year at the government’s request as fighting escalated in the region.
While losing Kilinochchi is a major setback, the Tigers have shown in the past that they have the ability to rebound.
Barely six months after government troops captured the northern Jaffna peninsula in 1995, the Tigers overran a military base in Mullaittivu, killing more than 1,200 soldiers.
The guerrillas also reversed military gains of 19 months in a matter of five days in November 1999, going on to dislodge the military from their Elephant Pass base at the entrance to Jaffna.
In his annual speech in November, LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran vowed to defend his territory and suggested that the rebels would revert to guerrilla-style, hit-and-run attacks as their area shrank.
The Tigers have been labelled a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union and neighbouring India, but had the backing of the international community when Oslo-backed peace talks got under way in 2002.
Human rights groups have accused the Tigers of rampant extortion and criticised their recruitment of child fighters.
Nevertheless, the US State Department later Friday urged the Sri Lankan government and Tigers to start negotiating over the “legitimate” demands of the Tamils in light of the fall of Kilinochchi.
“We would also like to see that the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil opposition enter into a discussion that will resolve the legitimate issues held by the Tamils,” said Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman.
“But we repeat our call that the differences they have should be resolved peacefully,” he said.
Troops enter rebel headquarters Kilinochchi
Sri Lankan troops have now entered parts of Kilinochchi town from three fronts and are poised to take full control, upon which an official announcement will be made….
Sri Lankan soldiers fought their way into the Tamil Tiger rebel capital Friday for the first time in a decade, military officials said, following months of fierce battles on the outskirts that left scores dead.
Troops entered the northern town of Kilinochchi from two sides, senior military officials told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.
The level of fighting inside the town remained unclear. The military had predicted Thursday that soldiers would seize the town within two days.
The fall of Kilinochchi would be devastating to the separatist Tigers, who have had used the town as their political and military headquarters for the past 10 years and have created structures for an independent state, such as a police, courts, and tax offices.
Recent government military offensives have forced the rebels out of much of their territory in the north of the Indian Ocean island nation. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has promised to crush the rebel group and end the nation’s 25-year-old civil war this year.
A 6-year-old Norway-brokered truce was officially called off last year with both sides openly violating the agreement.
Senior Sri Lankan officials have said repeatedly over the past two months that Kilinochchi would fall soon, but troops became bogged down by heavy rains and fierce rebel resistance.
Troops capture LTTE nerve Centre Kilinochchi. President orders Prabhakaran to surrender
The 57 Division and the Task Force 1 of Sri Lanka Army today (Jan 2) scored the greatest victory in their noble battle against terrorism by liberating the Kilinochchi town and Kilinochchi Train Station, the so-called administrative hub of the LTTE terrorists. The town of Kilinochchi is being cleared house to house.
Troops of 57 Division lead by Major General Jagath Dias have entered into the highly defended terrorists stronghold from the South and Southwestern boundaries while the Task Force 1 troops lead by Brigadier Shavendra Silva have marched in from the North and Northwest.
Kilinochchi, though not very strategically located in terms of military maneuvers, has been given a great symbolic importance by the LTTE terrorists as their administrative “capital”. In fact, the LTTE propaganda elements used to call the town as their de facto capital of the utopian state of “Eelam”. However , Sri Lanka government has been running all civil administrative affairs in the area, including bank and finance, education, health, trade and welfare.
Meanwhile 35 Ratha Regiment elite Tigers were killed when they clashed with a Brigade from the 59 Division near the town of Oddusudan yesterday.
Sri Lanka captures rebel HQ; 3 killed in Colombo
Sri Lankan troops captured the Tamil Tigers’ headquarters town on Friday in one of the biggest setbacks for the rebels in years, but in an apparent riposte a suspected suicide bomber killed three airmen in the capital Colombo.
Troops fought their way into the separatist stronghold of Kilinochchi deep in the north, dealing a heavy blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Details of casualties from the fighting were not immediately available.
“It was the constant dream of all Sri Lankans, whether Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, who are opposed to separatism, racism, and terrorism, and have always, sought peace, freedom and democracy,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a nationally televised address.
“Today our heroic troops have made that dream a reality. A short while ago, our brave and heroic troops have fully captured Kilinochchi that was considered the main bastion of the LTTE.”
Within an hour of his statement, a suspected suicide attacker struck near the Sri Lankan Air Force headquarters, a spokesman at the Media Centre for National Security said.
Hospital officials said 37 people were wounded in the blast.
The military said all three of those killed and 12 of the wounded were air force personnel.
The Tigers, who have been fighting for a separate homeland for minority Tamils in the east and north of the island for a quarter of a century, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Military officials say the rebels have in the past hit back with bombings in the capital and elsewhere whenever they have come under pressure on the northern frontline.
Analysts said the capture of Kilinochchi could make the capital and far south more vulnerable.
“Particularly after the humiliating defeat at Kilinochchi they will try to use their striking capability outside the theatre of conflict in a bigger way,” said Iqbal Athas, an analyst with Jane’s Defence.
Kilinochchi, in the Northern Province, has long been the centre of the Tamil fight for an independent homeland, which has seen more than 70,000 people killed in a bitter civil war since 1983.
Pro-rebel website http://www.tamilnet.com said the Tigers had moved their headquarters further northeast before the town fell.
“The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has entered a virtual ghost town,” the website said. “The Tigers, who had put up heavy resistance so far, had kept their casualties as low as possible in the defensive fighting.”
FLAGS AND FIRECRACKERS
The fall of the rebels’ de facto capital was greeted with the bursting of firecrackers in Colombo. Others waved the national flag as they drove through the streets of the capital.
“The capture indicates very clearly that the LTTE’s attempt to build up a quasi-state has now collapsed,” Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu, a political analyst, said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said the Tamil Tigers had been “one of the most notorious and brutal terrorist organizations over the past 20 years” but he urged the government to address Tamil concerns.
“A peaceful dialogue is what is called for to resolve the differences and legitimate concerns of the Tamils,” he said.
Sri Lanka’s military has been closing in on Kilinochchi since September. Over the past month, it has been assaulting Tiger defences encircling the town and both sides have claimed to have inflicted ever higher death tolls on the other.
Sources from Rajapaksa’s office earlier told Reuters that troops had entered Kilinochchi from two locations.
State media said many rebels had fled the town.
The military developments powered the island nation’s stock market higher. The Colombo All-Share index closed 5 percent up. The market fell 40.8 percent last year on economic and war worries.
“With the news of Kilinochchi’s fall, sentiment just got a boost,” said Geeth Balasuriya, assistant research manager at HNB Stockbrokers.
The LTTE started fighting the government in 1983. It says it is battling for the rights of minority Tamils in the face of mistreatment by successive governments led by the Sinhalese majority since Sri Lanka won independence from Britain in 1948.
Exactly a year ago, Rajapaksa’s government formally scrapped an increasingly tattered six-year truce brokered by Norway, saying the rebels were using it as cover to regroup and re-arm.
Sri Lankan troops capture rebels’ de facto capital
Sri Lankan forces captured the Tamil Tigers‘ de facto capital Friday, winning a major victory in a decades-long battle to destroy the ethnic separatists and crush their dream of establishing an independent state.
The rebels, who still control 620 square miles of northeastern jungle — an area about the size of Los Angeles, swiftly sent the message they would fight on. They carried out a suicide attack near air force headquarters in the capital, Colombo, killing three airmen and wounding 37 other people, authorities said.
Sri Lanka‘s ethnic minority Tamils have long complained they are treated as second-class citizens, with Sinhalese used as the nation’s de facto official language and members of the dominant group traditionally favored for government jobs. They have also accused the government of sending Sinhalese settlers into traditionally Tamil regions to overwhelm them demographically.
The fall of Kilinochchi was a devastating blow to the rebels’ dream of establishing a state for Tamils in the northeast after decades of marginalization by governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority.
The rebels had built a massive 10.5 mile-long earth and moat fortification to defend Kilinochchi. Over the past two months, they held off government troops — with the aid of pounding monsoon rains, in battles that reportedly killed hundreds of fighters.
But Army troops cleared the way into the town Thursday when they captured a key crossroad north of Kilinochchi that allowed them to close in from three directions, the military said.
They said they entered Kilinochchi the following morning with only minimal resistance, an apparent sign the rebels had retreated to their northeastern jungle bases to fight another day, analysts said. The rebel-affiliated TamilNet Web site said the Tamil Tigers had moved their headquarters farther to the northeast before the town fell.
The capture of Kilinochchi was a milestone in a civil war that has killed at least 70,000 people and plagued this Indian Ocean island nation off and on for 25 years. A 2002 cease-fire collapsed in new fighting three years ago, and government forces have pushed deep into the rebels’ heartland in the jungles of the north in recent months.
Foreign mediators have called for a political solution to the fighting, saying that warfare will not resolve the underlying tensions between the Tamil minority, which makes up 18 percent of the population, and the Sinhalese majority that accounts for 74 percent of the country.
The Tamil Tigers have been blamed for scores of bombings and suicide attacks and are listed as a terror group by the United States and European Union.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid described the Tigers as “one of the most notorious and brutal terrorist organizations” but called for a peaceful dialogue to resolve the legitimate concerns of Tamils.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has vowed to destroy the group formally known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, announced the fall of Kilinochchi in a nationally televised speech.
“Our brave and heroic troops have fully captured Kilinochchi, which was considered the main bastion of the LTTE,” he said, as Cabinet ministers erupted in applause. “For the last time, I call upon the LTTE to lay down their arms and surrender.”
Officials with the Tamil Tigers could not be reached for comment.
Celebrations erupted across Colombo, where people flooded the streets, dancing, waving Sri Lankan flags and setting off firecrackers.
“We ask the government to completely destroy the Tiger terrorists who have ruined this country,” said businessman Sudath Walakumbura.
But less than an hour after Rajapaksa’s speech, a suspected rebel suicide attacker blew himself up near air force headquarters in the heart of Colombo among troops heading home in the busy afternoon rush hour, air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said. Among the 37 injured were 16 airmen, he said.
Though Rajapaksa has said he would pursue a political solution, he also pressed ahead with the fight against the rebels.
Over the past two years, the military has forced them out of their eastern strongholds and much of the territory they once held in the north, said army commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Aid groups say about 230,000 civilians displaced by the fighting are also squeezed into the region.
The Tamil Tigers have used Kilinochchi as their political and military headquarters for nearly a decade, creating the trappings of an independent nation.
They established a police force, courts and tax offices. They printed maps of the island, highlighting the borders of their hoped-for state, which they called Tamil Eelam. They feted foreign diplomats and peace negotiators at a rebel guest house overlooking a picturesque reservoir.
The fall of Kilinochchi was the Tamil Tigers most significant defeat since 1995, when the government captured the city of Jaffna, the emotional center of Tamil life in Sri Lanka.
In addition to capturing Kilinochchi, Fonseka said troops also took control of most of the north’s largest highway and were “attacking the fleeing terrorists.”
He said troops were now focused on pushing into the rebels’ last major stronghold of Mullaittivu and estimated that only 1,700 to 1,900 rebels remained.
“We are confident that we can see the end of them within this year,” he said. “We don’t need even a year to see their end.”
The government had previously vowed to end the war in 2008.
But analysts say the rebels, who carry a glass vial of cyanide around their necks to commit suicide if they are captured, still have thousands of fighters willing to die for their cause.
“It’s not going to be the end of the fighting or the end of the LTTE,” said military analyst Susantha Seneviratne, a retired colonel. However, he said the loss of Kilinochchi gave the government important momentum and was sure to damage confidence in the group, making it harder for them to raise money abroad.
KILINOCHCHI HAS FALLEN
LTTE launched a counter attack on the 571 now in control of Kilinochchi Train Station, which is now being beaten back. The town of Kilinochchi is being cleared house to house. Another counter attack was launched against the 59 in the morning near oddusudan, which was also repulsed.
Kilinochchi now under SLA control
The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has now taken full control of Kilinochchi, the de facto capital of the LTTE. Troops who entered the town from three different directions and have now converged near the town center. 57 division from the advancing from the direction of Iranamadu Junction, 58 division advancing from the direction of Paranthan as well as commando units from the 2 commando regiment have now moved into the Kilinochchi town.
As of this moment, the entire township including the railway station, telecom office, main sports ground and the Kilinochchi Maha Vidyalaya are under SLA control. SLAF jets and helicopter gunships have been continuously targeting groups of LTTE fighters fleeing towards Mullaithivu since the fall of Kilinochchi. Operations in search of pockets of LTTE resistance lingering in the area are continuing.
Meanwhile several Pro LTTE media have admitted the loss of Kilinochchi- LTTE’s official mouthpiece Tamilnet.com claimed “The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has entered a virtual ghost town as the whole civilian infrastructure as well as the centre of the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam (LTTE) had shifted further northeast.”. The LTTE leader however vowed not to let the town fall and promised to make it a mass grave for the army in his annual speech conducted only about a month ago.
Meanwhile jubilant crowds from various parts of Sri Lanka could be observed lighting firecrackers and waving national flags in celebration of security force’s latest victory.
LTTE de facto capital is now being vacated
The LTTE capital Kilinochchi is now being vacated as troops from the 57 converge on it from all sides. The Town is expected to fall completely into the hands of the Army shortly and it will be declared captured after clearing by tomorrow.
Meanwhile 35 Ratha Regiment elite Tigers were killed when they clashed with a Brigade from the 59 Division near the town of Oddusudan yesterday. 15 bodies of the elite cadres were recovered.
This Brigade from the 59 has bypassed Oddusudan and is heading towards two LTTE airstrips situated South East and North West of Puthukudiirippu. Out of a total of six airstrips detected by the military, 3 are within our grasp, including the one at Iranamadu.
Kilinochchi surrounded, Female Black Tiger HQ Falls
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) political capital is about to fall to advancing forces of the Sri Lankan Army. Several Special Infantry (SI) formations of SLA’s 57-1 brigade have already moved into the town and secured several parts of it including the railway station. Majority of LTTE resistance in the area has either been crushed by the army or has been forced to retreat. Official announcement of the fall of tiger stronghold is expected anytime now.
Meanwhile even the LTTE’s primary weapon, the black tigers (aka suicide bombers), were not able to stop the army onslaught in this instance. LTTE’s Female black tiger command (9-3 base) located in Karadiyapokku (located on the northern boundaries of Kilinochchi town) was overrun by 58 division units several hours ago. A senior black tiger leader was among those killed in the battle.