- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2008

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA - Sri Lanka’s air force pounded the Tamil Tiger rebels’ main northern defense line Sunday, a day after government forces dismantled the last rebel stronghold on the island’s west coast, the military said.

Fighter jets bombed the Tamil separatists’ defense line in the Muhamalai area of Jaffna peninsula, north of the rebels’ de facto state, twice on Sunday, said air force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara.

Nanayakkara said the jets also hit rebel artillery and mortar positions in the same area in retaliation for rebel shelling of soldiers on Saturday. He said details of damage and casualties were not immediately available.

On Saturday, the military announced it had dismantled the last rebel defense on the island’s west coast and secured a land route to government-held Jaffna.

It was a key victory for the military, which has vowed to finally defeat the guerrillas by year’s end.

To mark the triumph, the government declared a week of celebrations starting Monday to pay tribute to the armed forces.

The military has had no land link to the northern peninsula for more than a decade, forcing the government to depend on boats and aircraft for access. The main highway to the peninsula remains under rebel control.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said the peninsula’s main military base no longer falls within the rebels’ artillery range because of Saturday’s gains. Nearly 40,000 soldiers are believed to be housed on the base.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa hailed the military’s success in a televised speech Saturday and urged the rebels to lay down their arms and surrender.

Separately Saturday, army troops destroyed 16 rebel bunkers in the Mullaitivu district and fought a series of battles in the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi, inflicting “heavy casualties” on the guerrillas, a military statement said Sunday.

It said soldiers also suffered “minor damage,” but did not provide specific casualty details.

It was not possible to contact rebel officials for comment because most communication lines have been severed. Independent accounts are difficult to obtain from the battlefield because most journalists are barred from the war zone.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent state for the country’s ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered marginalization by ethnic Sinhalese-controlled governments.

More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.

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