Colombo: Sri Lankan troops Thursday smashed key forward defences of the Tamil Tigers in the island's north and captured yet another rebel stronghold of Palai, military officials here said.
Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the army's 53 and 55 Divisions advancing from Jaffna peninsula since Wednesday “overran all key area command centres” of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at Muhamalai area.
“The troops moving southwards from Muhamalai under heavy LTTE resistance have now successfully captured the strategically important Palai town center located about 5.5 kilometres south of Muhamalai. This is a major blow to the fleeing LTTE,” Brig. Nanayakkara said.
Due to the military thrust supported by heavy artillery barrages and close air support, he said the LTTE's forces “had withdrawn further southwards unable to hold their defence fortifications”.
“The troops are further advancing southwards aiming to capture the remaining strategically vital LTTE bases (so as to) reopen the Jaffna-Kandy A-9 main highway,” Brig. Nanayakkara said.
He said that LTTE cadres operating in Iayakkachchi and Elephant Pass areas “are sandwiched” in a 14-km stretch facing the advancing troops from both ends - Palai in the north and Elephant Pass in the south.
Muhamalai had been the northern most entry/exit point for those who travel to the rebel-held areas since a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire agreement came into effect in February 2002.
The defence ministry said a large cache of weapons and LTTE armaments, “kept hidden and sealed inside concrete-made underground hideouts”, were recovered by the troops.
Sri Lanka on Wednesday banned the LTTE and warned that the group would face all the consequences of a terrorist organisation.
The decision to ban the LTTE came within a week after Sri Lankan troops dealt a major blow to the rebels by capturing the LTTE's de facto capital Kilinochchi, 350 km north of here.
Political analysts say the banning the LTTE is largely a formal move as those suspected to be linked to the group are already prosecuted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and other laws.
The LTTE, which has been fighting to carve out a separate state for Tamils in the northeast of Sri Lanka, is already listed as a terrorist group organisation in various countries, including India, Britain and the US and also the 27-nation European Union.