Soldiers, Using Tanks for the First Time, Advance in Sri Lanka
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Using tanks for the first time to capture territory from Tamil rebels, government troops killed more than 150 insurgents in several days of fighting, the military says.
In the main battle Saturday and Sunday, soldiers took the key town of Tellippalai in Jaffna Peninsula, the rebel stronghold in northern Sri Lanka, the military said in Colombo.
The military now controls key cities on all three highways leading to Jaffna, the main city on the peninsula.
Hundreds of infantrymen - backed by recently acquired Czechoslovak T-55 tanks and by helicopters and fighter planes - attacked rebels in a nearby line of bunkers, said an army spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Until recently, most countries have been reluctant to sell heavy arms such as tanks to Sri Lanka, where civil war has raged for nine years.
Czechoslovakia was recently criticized for selling tanks to Syria. Prague has been working to stop selling weapons, an important part of its industry, to ″sensitive areas″ since its Communist government fell.
Another government advance was said to begin Thursday and to continue Sunday toward Alampil, a coastal city 80 miles southeast of Tellippalai.
The military said 150 to 175 rebels were killed in both attacks. It said at least 19 soldiers were killed and 74 wounded over the weekend.
Sri Lanka’s civil war has claimed at least 17,000 lives since 1983, when rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began their campaign for an independent homeland in the north and east.
Tamils, mostly Hindus, are 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s 17 million people, and many claim economic and cultural discrimination by the Buddhist majority Sinhalese.