The rapidly advancing Sri Lankan army (SLA) on Saturday claimed to be have captured the last big town of Mullaitivu in the north-east after soldiers breached LTTE defences and entered the town in the afternoon.
Mullaitivu is the capital of the district with the same name and the last bastion of the Tamil Tigers.
The LTTE captured the town — inhabited largely by fishermen — in 1996 after a bloody battle in which more than 1,200 SLA soldiers were killed.
Located about 350 km north-east of Colombo, it is situated in a narrow stretch of a land between a lagoon and the Indian Ocean.
Its re-capture by the SLA triggered another round of speculation about the whereabouts of LTTE chief V Prabhakaran. The government and the military, however, remained tight-lipped about his location.
The entry of the SLA into Mullaitivu town on Saturday was preceded by heavy fighting with the LTTE firing long-range artillery guns at the advancing SLA troops.
Initial reports said that like in Kilinochchi town, civilians had moved out of Mullaitivu town, leaving a deserted houses and shops to be taken over by soldiers.
With the capture of the town, the Tamil rebels are now said to be cornered in an area some 200 to 230 sq km in size in the Mullaitivu district.
The area has the coast on one side and lagoons and forest on the other.
The territory under the LTTE’s control has rapidly and drastically shrunk from more than 12000 sq km in the north and the east of the island nation in the middle of 2006 to less than 300 sq km in the first month of 2009.
“Their area of control is now confined to Puthukkundiyiruppu town and Vishwamadu areas in Mullaitivu district,” military spokesperson, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told Hindustan Times.