COLOMBO // Sri Lanka's air force pounded the Tamil Tiger rebels' main northern defence line today, a day after government forces dismantled the last rebel stronghold on the island's west coast, the military said. Fighter jets bombed the Tamil separatists' defence line in the Muhamalai area of Jaffna Peninsula, north of the rebels' de facto state, the military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said.
He said the jets also hit rebel artillery and mortar positions in retaliation for rebel shelling of soldiers on yesterday. Brig Nanayakkara said details of damage and casualties were not immediately available. Yesterday, the military announced it had dismantled the last rebel defence on the island's west coast and secured a land route to the government-held Jaffna. It was a key victory for the military, which has vowed to finally defeat the guerrillas by the year's end.
The military has had no land link to the northern peninsula for more than a decade, forcing the government to depend on boats and aircraft for access. The main motorway to the peninsula remains under rebel control. Bri Nanayakkara said the peninsula's main military base no longer falls within the rebels' artillery range because of yesterday's gains. Nearly 40,000 soldiers are believed to be housed on the base. The president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, hailed the military's triumph in a televised speech yesterday and urged the rebels to lay down their arms and surrender.
Separately yesterday, army troops destroyed 16 rebel bunkers in the Mullaitivu district and fought a series of battles in the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi, inflicting "heavy casualties" on the guerrillas, a military statement said. It said soldiers also suffered "minor damage," but did not provide specific casualty details. It was not possible to contact rebel officials for comment because most communication lines have been severed. Independent accounts are difficult to obtain from the battlefield because most journalists are barred from the war zone.
The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for the country's ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalisation by ethnic Sinhalese-controlled governments. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence. *AP