Sri Lanka claims it's closing in on Tamil Tiger stronghold

Amid fierce fighting in recent days, the military says it will soon take the rebel base and, within months, end one of Asia's longest-running conflicts.

A government soldier fired at Tamil Tiger insurgents in Kilinochchi, north of the capital Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government claims it is on the verge of wiping out the Tamil Tigers' last rebel stronghold. If it's right, Sri Lanka could at last see the end of a long-running conflict that has left some 70,000 people dead.

The claims come amid fierce fighting in and near the Tigers' base in Kilinochchi on the northern tip of the island, where government airplanes are pounding rebel positions as ground troops slowly tighten the noose.

Numerous media noted that the military's claims could not be independently verified. Both the government and the rebels often make exaggerated claims, the Associated Press (AP) noted.

A top Sri Lankan military official told the BBC Friday the government had won ground, sea, and air superiority over the rebels, and that victory was at hand.

Said Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa:

The Colombo Page, a Sri Lankan daily, reported that government forces had seized a key road in Kilinochchi after a fierce, seven-hour gun battle. Eighteen Tamil Tigers were killed there and in other fighting Sunday, with many more injured, the paper said.

The paper also reported that Sunday marked the government-set deadline for international relief groups to leave the conflict zone.

United Press International (UPI) reported that the Sri Lankan military claimed it had killed a total of 62 militants and lost three of its own in the weekend's ground battles and airstrikes.

The National Post interviewed Sri Lankan military officials on the front lines of the conflict, who said the Tigers’ days as a serious military threat are numbered. [Editor’s note: The original version attributed the story to the Ceylon Daily News, which had posted a copy of the story on their site.]

Another military official interviewed in the article said he expected the Tamil Tigers to be wiped out within a year. However, the official, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, acknowledged that the going would be tough, and that de-mining Tiger-held areas could take decades.

Suicide bombings – a feature of the Tamil insurgency since its start – also continue. The AP reported that a suspected suicide bomber killed one civilian and wounded eight others in an attack on a police vehicle in a northern Sri Lankan town Sunday.

In its last report on the conflict in February, the International Crisis Group accused both sides of increasing human rights abuses, warned of a looming humanitarian disaster, and questioned whether the Sri Lankan government could solve the problem of Tamil militancy through military means alone.

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