420 Tigers killed, troops seize key Sri Lankan area

By P. Karunakharan, IANS,

Colombo : Fighting the Tamil Tigers in their last bastion, Sri Lankan troops Sunday captured the Puthukkudiyiruppu area, killing over 420 guerrillas in three days of fighting, the military said.

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The 53 and 58 divisions of the Sri Lankan Army also inflicted heavy damage on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Mullaitivu district, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.

The troops have also seized three 130 mm long-range artillery guns from the rebels.

Puthukkudiyiruppu in Mullaitivu had been a major base for the past two decades where the LTTE maintained several military and naval bases as well as its armoury.

“Over three days including today the troops have recovered over 420 LTTE bodies. Several known LTTE leaders such as Vithusha, Nagesh, Thurga, Theepan and Gadafi were among those killed in the operation,” Nanayakkara told the national television.

Theepan was in charge of the LTTE military wing for the island’s north while Gadafi was known to be the personal bodyguard of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran. Vithusha was the LTTE women wing leader.

He said that Bhanu, one of the LTTE military leaders, had been reportedly wounded in the clash. The fate of the LTTE chief is not known.

The defence ministry earlier in the day said that all senior LTTE leaders “are now hiding in the no-fire-zone holding the civilians as protective shield.

“A majority of the battle hardened LTTE leaders (have been) killed while the most senior cadres are getting ready to send the child soldiers to the frontline,” it said.

The ministry said its soldiers were locked in “man-to-man combat” in Mullaitivu.

“The remaining LTTE cadres still forced to fight the Sri Lankan Army in the no-fire-zone are facing total annihilation,” it said.

Among the recent seizures were a 30 mm anti-aircraft machine gun, three 12.7 mm anti-aircraft machine guns, seven multi purpose machine guns, 43 T-56 assault rifles, two 40 mm grenade launchers, four 5.56 mm weapons and three rocket propelled grenade launchers.

Several vehicles, including a luxury jeep believed to have been used by LTTE leaders, have been recovered.

According to the defence ministry, the 53 and 58 Divisions Wednesday made a “spectacular military” push to divide “the remaining LTTE fighting cadre into several isolated groups and surrounding them separately”.

The troops have asked the trapped LTTE cadres to surrender.

“We called them to surrender via their (LTTE) radio frequencies,” a senior ground commander was quoted as saying by the defence ministry.

There was no reaction from the LTTE, which has been fighting to carve out a separate state in the island’s northeast over the past quarter century.