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Nov 17, 2008 at 06:49pm IST

Lanka troops capture strategic LTTE bastion

Colombo: Sri Lankan troops on Monday captured another strategic town held by the Tamil rebels in the island's north, inflicting heavy losses on the rebels, the defence ministry announced.

It said the troops, backed by artillery fire, barged into Mankulam, dealing a major blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which had held the area for years as part of its de facto state.

Mankulam is located on the Kandy-Jaffna main highway that connects the Sri Lankan mainland to the island's northern tip.

LAST STAND: LTTE chief Prabhakaran's troops under heavy fire.

A triumphant army chief, Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka, said his troops seized the strategically important town in Mullaitivu district after three days of heavy fighting.

"Our troops captured Mankulam area completely today (Monday) after mounting attack on it for the past three days. In addition, the troops have advanced 10 km further north and captured another town, Panikkankulam, on the highway," he told the state-run television Monday.

He said although the troops had captured these areas from the rebels 10 years ago, they could not hold on to them.

"But this time around, we have killed a large number of LTTE cadres and chased many away. Our troops have accomplished this task successfully," he said.

This is the second major LTTE bastion to fall within three days.

The military announced Saturday that the troops had captured Pooneryn, the last major naval bastion of the Tigers on the west coast.

The fresh military victory has come at a time when Sri Lanka is observing a week-long felicitation from Sunday to mark the victories of the security forces against the Tamil Tigers.

The LTTE lost its strategic strongholds of Pooneryn on the west coast and Mankulam in southern end of the northern zone under its control even as it prepares to commemorate its fallen cadres in November's third week.

The week-long event ends with an annual speech by LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. The speech is given Nov 27, a day after Prabhakaran's birthday.

A pro-LTTE website, meanwhile, said the rebels had thwarted a major military offensive at Muhamalai in Jaffna peninsula during the weekend.

"Twenty Sri Lankan soldiers were killed and at least 80 wounded in the fighting," TamilNet said. It did not give the damage caused to the rebels.

The LTTE has been fighting to carve out a separate state in the northeast for a quarter century. Thousands have died in escalating fighting between the army and the LTTE since late 2005.

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