B. Muralidhar Reddy

Sri Lankan troops take Tiger ‘capital’; Rajapaksa says it’s victory for nation

COLOMBO: In a major blow to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Sri Lankan troops on Friday captured the northern town of Kilinochchi, which has been the Tigers’ administrative and political headquarters. The military victory came after a phase of intense fighting that lasted several weeks. Kilinochchi has been under Tiger control for over a decade.

In a special address to the nation on state television hours after the troops smashed into the town through three different points, President Mahinda Rajapaksa described the action as a “major victory in the world’s battle against terrorism.”

He reiterated the resolve of his government to continue the fight till the LTTE was “fully and finally defeated,” and asserted it was “the final message to the LTTE, to lay down their arms and surrender.”

The defeat of the Tigers in Kilinochchi capped a series of military victories by the forces in the east and the north since the current phase of hostilities began in July 2006. With the loss of Kilinochchi and all major bases in the district, the Tigers are now confined to the jungles of Mullaithivu district.

Acknowledging the loss, the pro-LTTE TamilNet website in a report said that the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) “has entered a virtual ghost town as the whole civilian infrastructure as well as the centre of the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam had shifted further northeast.” TamilNet claimed that the Tigers, who had put up heavy resistance, kept their casualties low in the defensive fighting.

Asserting that the capture of Kilinochchi should not be viewed as the victory of one community or region over the other, Mr. Rajapaksa maintained that it was a dream of all Sri Lankans who are opposed to separatism, racism and terrorism and strived for peace, freedom and democracy. He said his government would continue the fight against the LTTE until the “final act of this false Eelam struggle is played to its finish” in the small territory of jungle in Mullaithivu it is confined to today.

The President added: “Whatever the words or language used to describe it, this is truly an incomparable victory. What our heroic troops have achieved is not only the capture of the great fortress of the LTTE, but a major victory in the world’s battle against terrorism.”

Separately, the military claimed that with the fall of Kilinochchi, the LTTE’s “countdown to extinction” had begun. The Defence Ministry in a statement said troops of 57 Division entered the highly defended stronghold from the southern and southwestern boundaries while Task Force 1 troops marched in from the north and the northwest. The Army had taken the Jaffna-Kandy A-9 highway on the Omanthai-Paranthan stretch.

The military had crossed into Kilinochchi district on August 4 and has since been engaged in pitched battles with the Tigers. It cited the presence of a large civilian population and heavy monsoon rains as major factors behind the slow progress towards Kilinochchi town.

“Kilinochchi, though not very strategically located in terms of military manoeuvres, has been given a great symbolic importance by the LTTE terrorists as their administrative ‘capital.’ In fact, the LTTE propaganda elements used to call the town as their de facto capital of the utopian state of ‘Eelam.’ However, Sri Lanka government has been running all civil administrative affairs in the area, including bank and finance, education, health, trade and welfare,” the Ministry said.

The LTTE took control of Kilinochchi in 1990 when the SLA withdrew its garrisons after the departure of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). The SLA gained control of the town following operations Sathjaya I, II, and III in September 1996. The town again fell into LTTE hands in September 1998, and ever since it has been designated as the LTTE’s “administrative and political headquarters.”

Blast in Colombo

Shortly after Mr. Rajapaksa finished his address, a suspected LTTE suicide bomber blew herself up outside the headquarters of the Sri Lanka Air Force in the heart of Colombo. An airman and a civilian were killed and 29 others, mostly civilians, injured.

  • Text of President Rajapaksa's announcement
  • Corrections and Clarifications

    The accompanying Graphic News map in the lead story "Kilinochchicaptured in devastating blow to LTTE" (January 3, 2009, page 1) once againincorrectly depicted the Indian Ocean. What was shown as the Indian Oceanshould have been the Bay of Bengal. (In this column, on November 29, 2008,we pointed out that the standalone graphic (Graphic News, "Terror in Mumbai"page, November 28, 2008), titled "Bomb attacks in India in 2008", hadincorrectly depicted the major water bodies around India.)