By Sunil Jayasiri
The security forces yesterday achieved their biggest battlefield victory when they captured the former LTTE administrative capital of Kilinochchi following weeks of fierce battles which saw both sides suffering significant losses.
Fire crackers were lit and celebrations seen on the streets of Colombo and other parts of the country with the news that the former Tiger stronghold had fallen into the hands of the military which was now poised to capture Elephant Pass and Muhamalai thus clearing the whole of the A9 Road that links Kandy and Jaffna.
“The military has entered Kilinochchi town,” military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara told a hurriedly arranged news conference last morning at the Media Center for National Security.
He said troops of the Army’s-57 division led by Major General Jagath Dias and Task Force-1 troops led by Brigadier Shavendra Silva were conducting operations in Kilinochchi and had entered the town from three different directions -- Task Force-1 troops from the North and the 57 division troops from the south and west.
“This victory has been gained after months of difficult battles by our soldiers,” brigadier Nanayakkara said and added that the fall of the LTTE’s administrative capital was a major loss for the Tigers who extorted taxes from civilians living in the area where the Tiger police and other Tiger offices including the LTTE peace secretariat were located.
The Defence Ministry said the 57-division troops marching from the south of Kilinochchi town linked up with Task Force-1 troops advancing from the north.
“The army is now in control of the A-9 Road (Jaffna - Kandy) between Omanthai and Paranthan,” the ministry said.
A senior military official on the spot told Daily Mirror that troops of the 571 Brigade led by Lt. Colonel Harendra Ranasinghe had first taken control of the Kilinochchi Railway Station by yesterday morning.
“Soon after capturing the Driarukulam area situated south of Kilinochchi last morning the army captured the railway station and then the town after a fierce battle,” the official said.
However, he said that Tiger resistance was low compared to major battles in the recent past. “According to intercepted rebel radio communications, LTTE cadres had already withdrawn from Kilinochchi by the time the troops entered Kilinochchi,” the official said.
He said with the fall of Paranthan a few days ago, the LTTE withdrew some of its cadres from the camps at Elephant Pass located some ten kilometres north of Paranthan.
“The troops are now operating some two kilometres south of Elephant Pass while mopping-up operations in the Kilinochchi town are underway,” he said.Spread over an area of 1,250 sq km Kilinochchi is one of the most fertile districts in Sri Lanka and crops such as paddy,
chillies, onions and many varieties of vegetables grown there contributed to the country’s economy before the area came under LTTE control.
Kilinochchi was the location where the LTTE had set up its kangaroo courts Eelam police headquarters, Eelam banks and most importantly the luxurious LTTE peace secretariat.
The LTTE first took control of the town in 1990 when the Army withdrew from Kilinochchi. Later the area was recaptured by the Army during Sathjaya I, II, and III operations in September 1996.
The LTTE once again took control of the town and its suburbs in September 1998 and located its administrative hub in that area since then.
Meanwhile, Air Force spokesman Janaka Nanayakkara told the media that 25 Air missions were carried out on 32 identified LTTE targets since October 1 providing support to the troops of the 57-division and the Task Force-I operating in the Paranthan and Kilinochchi areas.
He said Air Force MI-24 helicopter squadron, Kfir and fighter jet squadrons carried out 144 bombing missions on 204 LTTE targets located in and beyond LTTE defences.
Meanwhile, Army Commander Sarath Fonseka said some 1,500 LTTE cadres were killed during past two months. He believed that some 1,700 to 1,900, cadres are still with the LTTE.
“Our soldiers are some 2 kilometres south of Elephant pass and five kilometres away from Mullaitivu,” the Commander said adding that the troops were able to restrict the LTTE to some 40 x 40 kilometre land stretch in the eastern flank of the A-9 road. The Army Chief was outlining the entire victory process at the Presidential Secretariat just after President Rajapaksa addressed the nation last evening.