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09 Jan 2009 11:44
Sri Lankan troops battled the Tamil Tigers in their last remaining strongholds in the north, while the rebels detonated a roadside bomb on Friday in the east that killed seven people.
The rebels triggered the bomb as a convoy escorted by soldiers passed by, said military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara. The blast killed three air force troops and four civilians and wounded six others, he said.
Rebel officials could not be reached for comment.
The assault outside the eastern city of Trincomalee signalled the rebels were turning to guerrilla tactics.
The government captured the east from the rebels in 2007, but attacks in the area have increased in recent months.
Meanwhile, the soldiers who captured the rebels’ administrative capital of Kilinochchi last week pushed eastward from the town toward new rebel defence lines, Nanayakkara said.
Military forces were also closing in on the strategic rebel base at Elephant Pass, the gateway to the northern Jaffna peninsula.
On Thursday troops sweeping in from the north overran the rebel base at Pallai on the peninsula and then marched on, capturing Sorampattu, several kilometres to the south, the military said.
The government has said it hopes to crush the rebels and end the nation’s civil war this year.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalisation by governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. The conflict has killed more than 70 000 people.
Human rights groups have warned that casualties among the hundreds of thousands of civilians living in the shrinking pocket of rebel territory were likely to mount as the government closed in on the insurgents.
The pro-rebel TamilNet website reported that seven civilians—including an 11-month-old baby—were killed on Thursday in a government artillery assault on two rebel-held villages.
Nanayakkara said no civilians were living in the area of the attack.
Other rights groups have accused the government and its allies of trying to stifle dissent by vilifying opposition journalists as unpatriotic rebel sympathisers and creating an atmosphere that encourages violence against them.
On Thursday Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, was killed by gunmen on motorcycle. He died in a hospital hours later. Police spokesperson Ranjith Gunasekara said no one has been arrested for the killing.
The United States State Department condemned the attack, calling it a “shocking blow to independent media in Sri Lanka”.
“The United States is deeply concerned that such attacks undermine efforts to build a united and democratic Sri Lanka where the rights of all people are protected,” spokesperson David A Wood said in a statement released on Friday.
Wickramatunga’s newspaper was critical of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, accusing it of widespread corruption. - Sapa-AP
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