Sri Lanka presses farther into rebel territory

Although Sri Lankans celebrated significant gains against the Tamil Tigers on Monday, the rebels claimed to have killed at least 53 soldiers in fighting.

The Tamil Tigers claimed they killed several dozen government soldiers, as Sri Lanka held a day of celebration Monday to mark battlefield successes against the separatists.

Monday's events came days after the government announced it had taken the key rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi – raising hopes of an end to decades of civil war that have ravaged this small island off India's southeast coast.

But that announcement was immediately followed by a Tamil suicide bombing in the capital Colombo that killed two.

In grinding warfare amid monsoon rains in thick jungle terrain, the Sri Lankan military has made progress in recent months in its latest campaign against the rebels, and has repeatedly claimed victory is at hand. The rebels are now confined to "a jungle area slightly larger than the city of Los Angeles," according to the Associated Press (AP).

The AP said the Sri Lankan military on Sunday took reporters on a tour near the front lines, as soldiers pushed north and east to corner remaining Tamil forces.

For their part, the Tigers released a statement claiming they had killed 53 government soldiers, according to the BBC.

The Times (of London) noted the Tamils' claims were "impossible to verify" amid an "almost complete media blackout."

A columnist in The Sunday Times, a Sri Lankan newspaper, said the president's announcement of the fall of Kilinochchi on Friday immediately sparked "national euphoria."

Another Sunday Times commentary gave the blow-by-blow of the recent battles, complete with a detailed map.

Still, some analysts warned that despite the government's military successes, the conflict was "far from over," Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

And a Japanese official warned only a political solution would fully resolve the conflict. Japan is Sri Lanka's top aid donor and has been involved in seeking a resolution to the war between the government and rebels, according to another AFP report.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that as the Tamil Tigers appeared to face their day of reckoning, India has renewed its call for the extradition of the rebel leader, Veluppillai Prabhakaran, to face trial for the 1991 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Hindu Tamils are a disadvantaged minority in Buddhist Sinhalese-majority Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers have waged a struggle for as long as 25 years for a separate Tamil state in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

The conflict has killed an estimated 65,000 and displaced 200,000 more, according to a background report by the Council on Foreign Relations.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.