Sri Lankan army (SLA) soldiers on Friday entered the LTTE’s political capital Kilinochchi and wrested the rebel-controlled town for the first time in 10 years even as a suicide attack killed two and injured many more in Colombo.
Troops from several army battalions entered the town from the west, north and south after breaching the 20-feet high earth wall built around it. More than 50 LTTE cadres were killed and several more injured in clashes as soldiers gradually fought their way in. Soldiers on the ground were provided air cover with fighter aircraft carrying out several sorties. The capture was preceded by several months of fierce fighting in which both sides lost a large number of soldiers and cadres.
Within hours of being forced out of its stronghold, a suspected LTTE cadre blew himself up in front of the Sri Lankan air force headquarters in the heart of Colombo, killing two and injuring 36 more.
The suicide bomber riding a bicycle tried to enter the headquarters but triggered the bomb when stopped at the gate. Several air force personnel were injured in the attack.At about the same time, President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a televised national address said the Kilinochchi victory was "incomparable" and "a major victory in the world's battle against terrorism."
Rajapaksa said: "there were some who tried to present Kilinochchi as the capital of a separate state. We have seen in the recent past how this was believed not only by the international media but also by those engaged in diplomacy. No more is this capital of its dream separate state the property of the LTTE."
Kilinochchi is located about 350 km north of Colombo and its capture could prove to be a crushing psychological blow for the LTTE. The LTTE pushed out the army from the town in September, 1998.
"Fighting is still going on in pockets. We hope to gain complete control in the next 24 hours," military spokesperson, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told HT.
The pro-LTTE website TamilNet quoting rebel sources said: "tigers, who had put up heavy resistance so far, had kept their casualties as low as possible in the defensive fighting." It added that most buildings in the town were partly damaged or completely destroyed by continuous air strikes and artillery barrage by the Sri Lankan forces.
There was no civilian casualty as the town's residents had already moved out and migrated to the northeast about two months ago after fighting became intense.
The LTTE's peace secretariat was located in Kilinochchi and was the venue for negotiations during the fragile Norway-brokered ceasefire with the government between 2002 and the beginning of 2008.
As the news spread across the island nation, television channels showed people coming out on the streets to celebrate. Many unfurled the national flag and burst crackers to mark the occasion.
The Tamil Tigers are fighting the armed forces since 1983 to carve out a separate Tamil nation in the east and north of the country.
But after the fall of Kilinochchi, there is little option now for the LTTE cadres but to flee towards the jungles in Puthukuduiruppu and Vishvamadu areas in the east.
"The LTTE will now be confined to a very small area. Small parts of the Kilinochchi district and parts of the Mullaitivu district. Earlier when they suffered reverses in war, they could move from one place to the other. This time, they have no where to go," Dharmalingan Siddharthan, leader of the People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), told HT.
He said that the LTTE numbers are rapidly diminishing and large number are now deployed around chief V Prabhakaran to protect him. His location however continues to elude the armed forces.
Siddharthan said after the Kilinochchi, the fight between the LTTE and the armed forces is likely to intensify. "The LTTE would be cornered in a small area surrounded by 2.5 lakh to 3 lakh displaced civilians. The army would continue its operations in Mullaitivu. Till now civilian casualties have been very few. But the LTTE is sure to use them as a human shield," he said.
There was no immediate reaction from the LTTE. But Tamil Tiger political leader Balasingham Nadesan had told news agency Associated Press on Tuesday that they began as a guerrilla group and would be able to keep fighting even if they lost much of the territory they controlled in the north.