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Sri Lanka troops break more rebel defences

world Updated: May 08, 2009 13:05 IST

Sri Lankan soldiers have overrun another Tamil Tiger defence line standing between government troops and the small strip of territory still held by the ethnic rebels, the defence ministry said on Friday.

In heavy fighting late Thursday, troops captured a mud embankment built by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to slow down the government's offensive.

"Troops continued their advance further... amidst stiff resistance as LTTE terrorists made their maximum effort to hold the earth bund (embankment) built to obstruct the security forces," the ministry said.

It said that the Tigers had left behind dead bodies on the battlefield, but gave no detailed breakdown of casualties.

"Troops also received minor damages from exploding anti personnel mines," the ministry added.
The government says the LTTE now holds less than five square kilometres (two square miles) of coastal jungle in the island's far northeast.

Before the total collapse of a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire in January 2008, the LTTE controlled most of the north and ran their own mini-state.

Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse said on Thursday that the long-running war against the rebels, which dates back to the 1970s, was "rapidly" nearing its end.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) meanwhile reported heavy fighting near a medical assembly point at Mullavaikkal, inside the LTTE-held zone, and said the lives of patients and aid workers were at "great risk".

"This hampers medical evacuations of wounded civilians and their families," Jacques de Maio, chief of ICRC operations in South Asia, said in a statement.

The government estimates that up to 20,000 civilians are being held by the LTTE as human shields. The United Nations has said the number could be as high as 50,000.