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Sri Lanka troops enter last rebel stronghold: military

Sri Lankan troops have entered the last urban area still in the hands of Tamil Tiger guerrillas after heavy fighting, says the defence ministry.

world Updated: Feb 28, 2009 12:47 IST

Sri Lankan troops have entered the last urban area still in the hands of Tamil Tiger guerrillas after heavy fighting, the defence ministry said on Saturday.

Soldiers entered Puthukkudiriruppu on Friday despite heavy resistance from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the defence ministry said in a statement.

Government forces have pushed the Tigers into a narrow bit of land and have said they hope to completely crush the rebels by April -- a victory that would bring an end to 37 years of armed conflict in the South Asian island nation.

"Troops who have entered Puthukkudiriruppu town perimeter have found LTTE's high-tech satellite communication centre, while further advancing into the built-up area amidst stiff resistance from terrorists," the statement said.

The defence ministry did not say whether troops had suffered any casualties, but said the bodies of five rebels had been found.
The LTTE did not immediately comment on the latest fighting, which has raised concerns for the safety of tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the war zone.

"Estimates vary of the number of civilians trapped, from 70,000 according to the government, through around 200,000 according to UN estimates, up to 300,000 or more according to Tamil groups," UN humanitarian chief John Holmes told the Security Council on Friday.

"They now face very great danger from fighting between the Sri Lankan government forces and the LTTE. And there is strong evidence that the LTTE are preventing them from leaving," he said.

"I urge again all those with any influence on the positions of the LTTE to use that influence now to persuade them to let the civilian population go. There is no time to lose."

He also called on the Sri Lankan government to "hold back from any final military battle in order to allow time for the civilian population to get out safely."

Holmes warned earlier this month that civilians were dying every day in the war zone, where government troops are fighting to crush the Tigers' bid for an independent Tamil homeland in the majority Sinhalese nation.