Sri Lankan troops enter Mullaitivu, LTTE's last bastion
Colombo (IANS): Sri Lankan troops on Sunday dealt a body blow to the Tamil Tigers as they overcame fierce resistance to enter the northern town of Mullaitivu, the last major rebel bastion, the Army said.
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said soldiers from the 59 Division were "carrying out operations inside the town area", adding that its population had fled the zone.
There was still no sign of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the founder leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"Today our troops entered Mullaitivu town area from the northern end. The LTTE cadres offered heavy resistance but our troops have successfully entered the town," Nanayakkara said.
He said the soldiers were advancing further into the rebel-held areas, countering efforts to stop the troop movement.
LTTE fighters were now confined to a small area, between Vishwamadhu and Puthukkudiyiruppu, Nanayakkara added. There was no immediate comment from the LTTE.
The Defence Ministry said that troops of 593 Brigade led by Lieutenant Colonel Jayantha Gunarathne "made a surprise attack across the Nanthikandal lagoon and entered the Mullaittivu town area this morning.
"Infantrymen of 7 Gemunu Watch led by Lieutenant Colonel Chaminda Lamahewa were the first to enter the town amid heavy terror resistance," it said.
Mullaittivu town is situated in a narrow stretch of a land between Nanthikandal lagoon and the Indian Ocean. The town fell to the LTTE in 1996. Since then the LTTE established its main military base there.
"Once mop up operations are completed, we will declare the area liberated," the defence ministry said.
The troops foray into Mullaitivu caps a string of military victories.
After capturing the entire eastern province in July 2007 from the LTTE, Sri Lankan troops began their operation in the north in September from the north-western Mannar district.
By December 2008, the troops has fully seized the western coastal belt from the rebels, from northwestern Mannar district up to Pooneryn.
Kilinochchi, the politico-military hub of the LTTE, fell at the start of 2009. The same week, the troops advanced further north and re-captured the 100-acre garrison at the Elephant Pass, the isthmus to the northern Jaffna peninsula.
The capture of the Elephant Pass saw the Government taking full control of the 325-km Jaffna-Kandy highway for the first time in 23 years.
Prabhakaran, who founded the LTTE in 1976, is known to have deep and seemingly secure underground caves and bunkers in the dense forests of Mullaitivu, from where he oversaw the war against Indian troops in Sri Lanka's northeast in 1987-90.
The whereabouts of the elusive rebel chief are not known although there are persisting reports that he might have escaped from Sri Lanka, possibly to Malaysia.