Sri Lankan troops fought their way into the Tamil Tigers' de facto capital Kilinochchi on Friday, a military official said, as the government tries to crush the rebels with its deepest push into their northern territory in a decade.
Kilinochchi, in the Northern Province, has long been the centre of the Tamil fight for an independent homeland, which has seen more than 70,000 people killed in a bitter civil war since 1983.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ruled Sri Lanka's northernmost Jaffna peninsula as a mini-state for almost a decade until the mid-1990s, running their own administration, courts and police.
Here are some facts about five key towns in the north that have become the focus of bitter battles since the military squeezed the rebels out of their eastern strongholds in 2007.
* The de facto rebel capital, Kilinochchi is a small low-lying city that symbolises the group's separatist aspirations. Its fall is being touted as a fatal blow to the rebels by the military, though some analysts say the Tigers may just move to guerrilla warfare should their bases tumble.
* Located about 330 kilometres (205 miles) north of the capital Colombo, it is home to a parallel Tiger-led administration with it's own police force, courts, prisons and taxes. It is where the Tigers welcomed officials for meetings during the ceasefire that was scrapped last year.
* The town has come under government control once before, in August 1996. The Tigers recaptured it in October 1998.
* The military said that it recaptured Paranthan, a town that lies between Kilinochchi to the south and the Elephant Pass, which is still a rebel stronghold to the north, on Thursday.
* Located about 6 km (3.7 miles) south of Kilinochchi, it lies on the A-9 trunk road -- the only trunk road connecting the country with government-controlled Jaffna, capital city of the Northern Province, and the rebel's stronghold until they were forced out by the military in 1995.
* Dubbed "the Highway of Death" and closed to civilians during wartime, the safety or otherwise of travelling along the A9 is a key barometer of the intensity of the conflict.
* Observers say the small town on the northeast coast is the Tiger's new base. Rebels reportedly shifted their operational HQ to Mullaitivu a few weeks ago, after the military started closing in on Kilinochchi in September.
* The Tigers won control of the town in 1996, after launching a fierce attack on its large, isolated Sri Lankan Army base.
* Hundreds of troops were killed, and after days of fierce fighting, the military was forced to abandon the destroyed camp.
* A former LTTE bastion, recaptured by the government in November 2008, the town on the northwest coast was the last major LTTE naval point on the west coast.
* In the past rebels used long-range artillery and mortar guns to fire at military targets from the town, which was home to a government naval base that patrolled the southern shore of Jaffna peninsula.
* Overseeing the area allows the government to cut off Tiger supply lines -- its recapture has almost "neutralized" the Tiger threat on the peninsula, the military said.
* The Tigers overran the base in November 1993 in a massive attack that saw hundreds killed on both sides.
* In November 2008 government troops took the rebel-dominated town located on the A9 south of Kilinochchi, after sporadic bouts of heavy fighting since June.
* The Tigers held the town for a decade and operated an air training base nearby.
(Writing by Gillian Murdoch, Singapore Editorial Reference Unit; Editing by Alex Richardson)