Goverment Gains Ground in Advance Toward Strategic Fort With AM-Barefoot Guerrillas, Bjt
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ The government said Sunday its troops overran a rebel-held island and killed more than 80 Tamil guerrillas in an advance toward a strategic northeast fort under siege by the insurgents.
Military officials in Colombo say government troops are now within about two miles of the 17th-century Jaffna Fort, where about 250 policemen and soldiers have been trapped for 10 weeks.
Vowing to crush the Tamil Tiger rebels once and for all, the government has staked its prestige on breaking the siege of the fort, the Sinhalese-control led government’s only outpost in Tamil-dominated Jaffna town 185 miles northeast of Colombo.
There was no confirmation of the government claim that its forces captured Mandativu Island after a fierce three-hour battle Saturday night.
Conventional communications to the Jaffna Peninsula were cut after June 11, when the Tigers broke a 13-month-old cease-fire with the government. The combatants use radios to communicate with colleagues outside the peninsula.
The last word from the Tigers was Friday when a guerrilla spokesman in Geneva acknowledged government forces were trying to advance from Kayts Island to Mandativu Island. Government troops landed on Kayts Island on Wednesday, disloging Tamil fighters.
The islands are connected by a causeway that continues across the Jaffna lagoon and ends just beside Jaffna Fort. But the causeway is heavily mined, the military officials said.
In the seven years since militants from the Tamil minority revolted against Sinhalese rule, the Tigers have proved devastatingly effective at making and planting mines.
Military officials in Colombo, who under briefing rules cannot be identified, claimed 84 Tigers and only two government soldiers were killed in the battle for Mandativu Island.
They said advancing troops found the bodies of 28 rebels on Mandativu and killed 16 others who tried to swim to safety. Another 40 Tigers were killed in strafing from a helicopter gunship as they tried to reach the mainland, the officials said.
The government says it now expects to reach Jaffna Fort by Monday.
Since launching its latest offensive against the Tigers, the government says it has stepped up aerial attacks on rebel positions around the star- shaped fort, a legacy of Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial rule on this island off the southern tip of India.
The Tigers have not acknowledged any losses but have accused the government of killing more than 300 Tamil civilians in bombing and strafing raids and ground fire on the Jaffna Peninsula, where 850,000 people live.
The government says 5,000 people have been killed since June 11, when the Tigers broke the cease-fire in northern and eastern Sri Lanka where most Tamils live. That brings to at least 14,000 the total number of victims of the 7-year-old Tamil insurrection.
Tamils make up 18 percent of the Indian Ocean island’s 16 million people. They have long complained that the Sinhalese majority discriminates against them in the jobs, education and use of the Sinhala language. Militants sought to create a separate homeland for Tamils in the northeast.
Sinhalese, who account for 75 percent of the Sri Lankan population, have dominated politics and the military since this country gained independence from Britain in 1949.