Sri Lankan troops advanced Saturday on the military headquarters of the Tamil Tigers and engaged the rebels in fresh gunbattles, a day after capturing their de facto political capital.
The defence ministry said ground forces, backed by helicopter gunships and war planes, were moving towards Mullaittivu, the jungle district along the northeastern seaboard, where the Tigers have their main military facilities.
“The battle for Mullaitivu has already begun,” the ministry said in a statement.
The air force used Mi-24 helicopter gunships to carry out four bombing raids Saturday in support of the advancing troops while jet aircraft were also deployed to hit Tiger positions, a military spokesman said.
He added that 10 such missions were carried out on Friday.
In the capital Colombo, a bomb went off at a commercial area of the city on Saturday, wounding three civilians and damaging several vehicles, police said. A suicide bombing in Colombo on Friday killed two people and wounded 36.
Troops, who took the Tigers’ northern stronghold of Kilinochchi on Friday, were fanning out to neighbouring areas and confronted small pockets of rebel resistance, a military official said.
“Several Tigers were killed and security forces also suffered injuries,” the official said.
The pro-rebel Tamilnet website reported that a petrol station and a bus station were bombed by the air force on Friday morning, killing four civilians and wounding another eight.
The defence ministry said government troops were moving further north of their positions in Kilinochchi in a bid to retake the strategically vital Elephant Pass which was lost to the Tigers in April 2000.
Elephant Pass lies at the entrance to the Jaffna peninsula which security forces wrested from rebel control in 1995.
Military officials said the fall of Kilinochchi had cleared the way for security forces to re-establish control over a vital highway linking the northern Jaffna peninsula with the rest of the country.
Jaffna, which has a population of nearly half a million people and a considerable military presence, used to be supplied by air and sea because the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) controlled the land route.
President Mahinda Rajapakse called the army’s capture of Kilinochchi an “unparalleled victory” for the entire nation and urged the rebels to lay down their arms and end their decades-old struggle for a separate homeland.
Street celebrations took place in the capital Colombo and elsewhere as news of the town’s capture broke.
The Tigers admitted losing Kilinochchi but argued that the town had been abandoned rather than captured.
“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.
While losing Kilinochchi is a major setback, the Tigers have shown in the past that they have the ability to rebound.
Forces advance on Mullaitivu
With the fight for liberating Mullaitivu accelerating after the capture of Kilinochchi, the Sri Lanka Air Force carried out two successful air strikes yesterday morning.
“Air Force MI24 gunships carried out air sorties, first on LTTE positions Northeast of Oddusuddan around 6.15 a.m. and the next around 10.30 a.m. on LTTE defences 2.5km South of Mullaitivu,” Air Force spokesman, Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said. The attacks were in support of the ground troops attached to the 59 Division advancing towards Mullaitivu.
Late last week, with the declaration of Kilinochchi capture Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka said that the battle for Mullaitivu has already begun as troops of 59 Division captured around 800 yards of the LTTE-built earth bund in Mullaitivu. Accordingly troops have positioned themselves just 5km south of Mullaitivu and 3km south of LTTE’s main airstrip.
At the moment the Task Force 01 commanded by Brigadier Shavendra Silva is advancing towards Elephant Pass while troops attached to the 57 Division commanded by Major General Jagath Dias are further consolidating their positions in Kilinochchi town area preparing for their forward march. The 59 Division commanded by Brigadier Nandana Udawatta is operating just south of Mullaitivu while Task Forces 02 and 04 are advancing Southwest of the 59 division, commanded by Brigadier Rohana Bandara and Colonel Nishantha Wanniarachchi respectively. Task Force 03, commanded by Brigadier Sathyapriya Liyanage is progressing Northeast of the A9 road.
Army Commander, Lt. General Sarath Fonseka congratulated the victorious troops and their field Commanders at the Vavuniya Security Forces Headquarters for their achievement in Kilinochchi on Friday.
During his discussions with the senior officials in Vavuniya, the Commander briefed them on the next step to be taken in Kilinochchi. Meanwhile the troops who entered Kilinochchi are currently consolidating their position in the area.
Clearing and search operations have been launched with troops giving priority for removal of anti-personnel mines and booby traps. Additional reinforcement are expected to reach Kilinochchi to strengthen the troops who are already there. Meanwhile President Mahinda Rajapaksa has emphasised that the victory of Kilinochchi should not be interpreted as the defeat of the North by the South or as a victory of one community over another.
In his address to the Nation on the television on Friday amidst countrywide celebrations to mark the victory in Kilinochchi, the President added that it was a decisive victory over savage terrorism that has devastating effect on the entire country.
He opined that the victories in Wanni had been achieved, based on the expectations and the mandate given to him by the people at the Presidential Election in 2005.
Meanwhile Major General Jagath Dias who led the troops into Kilinochchi and hoisted the Lion Flag there said, “It is after 10 years we have regained Kilinochchi and we are now in a position to advance towards Jaffna in the North and Mullaitivu in the East.
31 SLA KIA in Chilawatte
31 soldiers were killed in fierce fighting at Chilawatte (Silawatte) in the general areas Mulaitivu on Saturday. 22 of those killed went MIA while the bodies of another 9 were recovered by 59 division troops. So far Tigers have recovered 17 bodies while another few are lying inside a minefield. Casualties to the Tigers is unknown.
A forward operating platoon, comprised of 11GW and 14 VIR troops, met with this unfortunate demise after having successfully crossed an LTTE bund cum ditch. The platoon CO tried to push on further but was met with stiff resistance in an exposed area with a large Villu capable of drowning even a bull. With the 59 less than 5km south, the LTTE bastion of Mulaitivu is now being heavily defended by an LTTE reserve unit reinforced from Muhamalai-Nagarkovil by sea.
In the northwestern flank, troops from the 58 Division are now 2.5km from Paranthan junction. The 57 is progressing steadily, but is taking time due to heavy trappings in the Kilinochchi build-up area. 11 soldiers dies recently when a booby trapped house was razed to the ground.
Meanwhile LTTE has resumed firing heavy volumes of mortars and artillery. Hevay fire was experienced at Chilawatta as well. One LTTE trawler and one ship chartered by the LTTE have unloaded their cargo for two successive days off the Mulaitivu coast. The ship is said to be of Canadian origin and probably owned by the LTTE that had set sail from Indonesia while the trawler had come from south India.
The large vessel has brought mortars and artillery while the trawler has brought in large quantities of medical supplies to treat wounded LTTE cadres as well as torch batteries etc. Powerful anesthetics and antibiotics used in the treatment of gunshot wounds was in short supply for the LTTE until now.