x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Sri Lankan troops seize key Tamil stronghold

Army establishes land link to the Jaffna peninsula by taking control of Pooneryn town.

COLOMBO // Sri Lankan troops established a land link today to the Jaffna peninsula, the heartland of the country's ethnic minority Tamils, by seizing a strategic rebel stronghold on the west coast, the military said. The military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said with its control of Pooneryn town, the military will be able to access the previously isolated, government-controlled Jaffna peninsula by land.

Jaffna has been accessible only by air and sea since 2006 when the government closed another major road citing security reasons. That road cut through rebel territory. Pooneryn's fall is also strategically important for the military because the Tamil Tiger insurgents will no longer have access to the western coast, which has been a hub for rebel activity. Sri Lankan authorities have long claimed that the rebels have smuggled in arms, explosives and other supplies from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, separated from Sri Lanka's northwestern coast by the narrow Palk Strait. Tamil Nadu is home to some 55 million Tamils who have family and cultural ties with the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

Brig Nanayakkara also said the rebels will no longer be able to target troops stationed in the peninsula with artillery. Rebel officials could not be contacted for comment because most communication lines to rebel territory have been severed. Soldiers are also trying to capture Kilinochchi town, south-east of Pooneryn, which has been the rebels' de facto capital for the past 10 years. The government has vowed to crush the rebels and end their decades-old separatist campaign.

Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for the country's ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalisation by successive governments controlled by ethnic Sinhalese. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence. *AP