Sri Lankan soldiers killed at least nine Tamil Tiger insurgents in fierce clashes in the northeast, the military said on Saturday.
Military spokesman Brig Udaya Nanayakkara said the rebels were killed on Friday in Puthukudiyiruppu, the last rebel held township. If the town falls, the rebels will be confined to a small coastal strip of land, a few villages and a patch of jungle. The rebels who once controlled a vast swathe of land in the north and east are now left with 22 square miles (58 square kilometers) because of recent military operations, Nanayakkara said. Verification of the fighting is not available because independent journalists are barred from the war zone.
Aid groups say there are an estimated 200,000 people trapped in the tiny rebel territory and express fear for their safety. Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for the ethnic minority Tamils who have suffered decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by majority ethnic Sinhalese.
More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.