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Sri Lanka says it takes Tiger terrain, kills 23 rebels

Sri Lankan troops captured stretches of Tamil Tiger-held terrain in the island’s north-west on Tuesday, killing seven rebels in clashes that took the two-day death toll to 23, the military said.

Troops took control of a one square kilometre parcel of rebel-held scrubland in the north-western district of Mannar, as well as a rebel checkpoint and a 1,5km stretch of road, officials said, part of a strategy to gradually retake the Tigers’ northern stronghold to win and end a 25-year civil war.

Seven Tigers were killed in a battle for the land that sits on a ”border” separating rebel-held from government territory in the north, the military said, adding 16 rebels were killed in fighting in the north a day earlier.

”Whenever we come across positions which are advantageous for us, we will be taking over that location,” said military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara.

”When we have taken over these areas, then [the Tigers] have to take their heavy weapons [and pull back]. That means the villages and the roads are safe.”

Fighter jets bombed the Tigers’ de facto state for a second day running, hitting a rebel artillery position and an underground munitions store, the air force said.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who want an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka, were not immediately available for comment.

The government and rebels trade death toll claims that are rarely possible to independently verify.

Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the long-running war given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island’s east. But they still see no clear winner on the horizon.

Since the start of 2006, more than 6 500 rebels, 1 200 military personnel and over 980 civilians have been killed, according to the military, which says it aims to defeat the Tigers by the end of the year.

The Tigers are regularly hitting back with suicide attacks increasingly targeting civilians and roadside bombs, experts and the military say, which have deterred some tourists and have worried some investors in the $27-billion economy.

The central bank plays down the war’s impact, saying the economy has grown over 6% for three years running and foreign direct investment hit a record $671-million in 2007. – Reuters

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