Sri Lanka President Flies To Captured Rebel Headquarters
Thursday, 16 April 2009

Sri Lanka's president made a symbolic visit on Thursday to the town the Tamil Tigers had declared their capital, while an offensive to finish off the separatist rebels resumed after a two-day truce.

Sri Lanka's military has the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) encircled in a 17 square km strip of northeastern coastline, along with tens of thousands of civilians they have forced to stay with them.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa flew in and out of the northern town of Kilinochchi, where he met with troops and military commanders who are now housed in the former LTTE Peace Secretariat -- where the Tigers used to host visiting diplomats.

"He went and visited troops and returned," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The LTTE had established Kilinochchi as the capital of the separate state it has fought to create for Sri Lanka's Tamils since the war kicked off in 1983. Troops captured it on January 2, after four months of heavy fighting.

It was the first visit by a head of state to the former Tiger-held area in nearly 30 years, Nanayakkara said.

Meanwhile, soldiers killed at least 13 Tigers after resuming combat operations outside an army-declared no-fire zone, which is the only piece of land the LTTE still holds, the military said.

In what has been an increasingly common occurrence as fighting has neared the no-fire zone, the military said six of those were killed by snipers, a defence ministry statement said.

Pro-rebel web site www.TamilNet.com said the military had deployed "maximum firepower" via jets and Mi-24 attack helicopters that were hitting earthen dams the Tigers have built for defences.

"The civilian zone has turned into a war zone by the indiscriminate barrage and firing by the (Sri Lankan army)," TamilNet said. The military denies indiscriminate attacks.

The military has been silent on how it plans to free the civilians without putting them in the crossfire, but diplomats and analysts say the strategy appears to be to pressure the Tigers until they can no longer control the people.

High civilian casualties could draw criticism from foreign countries at a time when Sri Lanka needs international financial support.

Sri Lanka's $40 million economy is under strain with falling export prices and demand, the costly war, and the rupee currency under pressure.

Colombo is negotiating a $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund loan but it is yet to be seen whether that and the billions in post-war development aid it will need will be used as a diplomatic lever regarding the conduct of the war.

President Rajapaksa had declared a 48-hour fighting pause over the Tamil and Sinhala New Year period on Monday and Tuesday, and urged the Tigers to surrender and free the thousands of people they are holding there.

The government rejected international calls to extend it, and says the fact the Tigers have used earlier truces to rearm is proof of their disingenuousness in calling for another one now that defeat is almost at hand.

Diplomats have negotiated in vain to persuade the Tigers to free the people. The LTTE insists people are staying by choice, despite the fact more than 65,000 have fled since January.

Source: bdnews24.com

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