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SL troops capture Tiger's air strip

world Updated: Jan 16, 2009 09:13 IST

Sri Lankan troops have captured another air strip used by Tamil Tiger guerrillas as ground battles escalated across the troubled region, the defence ministry said on Thursday.

The makeshift jungle runway is the fifth of its type to be overrun by government soldiers, who are rapidly advancing on areas in the north once controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the ministry said.

It said the air strip at Iranamadu, south of the Tamil Tigers' former political capital of Kilinochchi, was protected by bunkers and trenches. However none of the light planes used by the LTTE were recovered.

The Tigers are believed to have five Czech-built Zlin-143 aircraft, smuggled onto the island in pieces and re-assembled. The guerrillas last launched an air attack early in September, when they bombed a military base.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said troops on Thursday captured another village from the Tiger rebels.

"Security forces took control of Dharmapuram village and it is an area where the military had not set foot before," Nanayakkara said.

The air force said it had also carried out three bombing raids in the Mullaittivu region on Thursday in support of advancing ground troops. The Tigers are said to have used, among other weapons, a 130mm heavy artillery gun.

The defence ministry said troops had recovered the body of a female LTTE fighter. The ministry did not give details of casualties, but said both sides suffered "damages" during fighting in Mullaittivu district on Wednesday.

The rebels are now almost totally confined to the jungle and lagoon district around Mullaittivu, their main military base on the northeast coast.

Sri Lanka's government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the rebels a year ago, and stepped up its bid to dismantle the LTTE's northern mini-state once and for all.

The government now says it is on the verge of total victory.