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Sri Lanka's war seen far from over

By Amal Jayasinghe
July 14, 2007

Associated Press photographs Sri Lankan soldiers, who were fighting Tamil rebels, returned to camp near Thoppigala, about 150 miles northeast of Colombo Monday.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

The government has won a major battle this week, but the fighting is far from over in one of the world's longest, bloodiest civil wars.

Analysts say that the Sri Lankan military's capture of the last Tamil Tiger rebel stronghold in eastern Sri Lanka is a major boost for the government, but one that could snare thousands of soldiers in a war of attrition.

The rebels, from the minority Tamil community, appear to have melted away from an area of dense jungle where troops said they had won a battle giving them control of the Eastern Province, an area of about 3,720 square miles considered the rebels' last major stronghold in the region.

But the rebels retain power in the country's north and can now resort to hit-and-run attacks in the east, despite losing both the battle near the lagoon town of Batticaloa and the provincial territory they formerly controlled, analysts said.

"It was a well-planned operation executed with minimum casualties," retired Brig. Gen. Vipul Boteju said of the military advance, which involved months of aerial bombardments and ground attacks in the Thoppigala jungle.

"Troop morale is very high after this success, but holding the newly captured areas will require more men," he said.

The government had control of the Eastern Province for the first time in over a decade, but there was still potential for trouble, the retired general said.

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