Fresh from their takeover of LTTE 'capital' of Kilinochchi, Sri Lankan troops on Sunday entered a key town on the road to the last remaining rebel stronghold Mullaittivu, the army said, asserting that the operation to capture the elusive Tamil Tiger supremo was on track.
Following day-long fighting, troops entered the strategically vital Oddusuddan town located along the Mankulam-Mullaittivu main road, the military said.
The junction had been used by the LTTE for administrative and logistic purposes as it has direct route access towards Mullaittivu. Troops were engaged in further consolidating operations in north and west of Oddusudan, it said.
MI-24 helicopter gunships of the Sri Lanka Air Force also carried out airstrikes targeting LTTE 'gathering places' in northeast of Kilinochchi and east of Paranthan this afternoon, SLAF spokesperson Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said.
Jets also raided two LTTE targets in east of Paranthan and Elephant Pass, a vital area that was lost to the Tigers in 2000. The troops were said to be within a sniffing distance of the corridor and if it is captured, a land link to Jaffna peninsula will be re-established.
The military, confident after the retaking of Kilinochchi after 10 years, said they are taking the offensive to the Mullaittivu jungles and will hunt down LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.
"Prabhakaran should be around the jungles of Mullaittivu area...he will not stay in one place. he will have alternative places to stay. But anyway he will be restricted to Mullaittivu district," army spokesman Brig Uday Nanayakkara was quoted as saying by the media.
A number of clashes between the rebels and the advancing troops were reported in Mullaittivu front yesterday, the army said. Three confrontations took place in Thottam area.
Troops recovered the body of an LTTE rebel as they fought to expand the forward defence lines in Kumalamunai. Eight T-56 assault rifles, a light machine gun and a Claymore mine were also recovered.
Sri Lankan soldiers had several clashes with rebels throughout the day in East Kilinochchi.
Meanwhile, in Vavuniya, police recovered a five-kg claymore mine during a search operation.
AP adds from Kilinochchi:
Two days after the military seized Kilinochchi, the government led a victory tour of the newly seized areas in the north, providing journalists a rare glimpse of the war zone.
Tanks rolled out of the crossroads, lined with war-damaged buildings and a pulverised gas station. A memorial to slain rebel fighters in the middle of the road was now surrounded by flags from army units that captured the area.
In Kilinochchi itself, nearly every building was missing its roof, and many of the structures were badly damaged, presumably from airstrikes and artillery barrages.
The town, and the main highway running through what was once the rebel heartland, were nearly deserted, except for some stray dogs and abandoned cows.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians lived in the Kilinochchi district and other regions that were controlled by the rebels before new fighting in the quarter-century civil war erupted again three years ago. Those people have disappeared into the jungles as well, fleeing ahead of the recent government offensive.