By C. Bryson Hull
COLOMBO, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's military said on Saturday it had seized the entire western coast of the Indian Ocean island, capturing the strategic Pooneryn area where Tamil Tiger rebels' artillery had kept soldiers at bay.
With the military controlling Pooneryn, a strategic spit of land that runs parallel to the neck of the northern Jaffna Peninsula across a narrow lagoon, it will soon be in a position to strike the rebel capital of Kilinochchi from three sides.
"We have completely taken over Pooneryn. We have gone up to the town, and control the roads from Pooneryn to Paranthan," military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said.
This now means that, for the first time since 1993, the government controls a land route all the way to a ferry that can easily bring supplies to Jaffna.
That should significantly cut the high cost of living for residents who, until now, got essential supplies by sea or air.
The Defence Ministry said on its website troops had encountered stiff resistance as they fought through marshlands south of Pooneryn and across the Paranthan junction overnight.
Previously, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had used heavy artillery to prevent two army divisions garrisoned on Jaffna from moving south toward Kilinochchi.
"We didn't find any artillery, because they must have taken those pieces away or hidden them," Nanayakkara said.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government threw out an ill-observed 2002 ceasefire in January. It accused the LTTE of using that truce to re-arm, and pledged to wipe out the rebels.
The LTTE, on U.S., E.U. and Indian terrorism lists, says it is fighting to create a separate homeland for minority Sri Lankan Tamils. Many Tamils complain of marginalisation by governments led by the Sinhalese majority since independence from Britain in 1948.
(Editing by Paul Tait)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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