COLOMBO, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- Sri Lanka's government troops have achieved the impossible. They steamrolled the mighty military machine of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels to capture the town of Kilinochchi, 328 km north of the capital Colombo.
The town has served as the LTTE's de facto administrative capital for over a decade. Although largely symbolic, the fall of Kilinochchi, or its inability defend it, has caused a substantial dent in the LTTE's image as a capable ruthless terrorist group.
A handout from the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry said Sri Lanka's government troops entering the town of Paranthan. (Xinhua/AFP Photo)
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse echoed the enormity of the task achieved by his Army Commander Lt General Sarath Fonseka and the troops,
"There were some who tried to present Kilinochchi as the capital of a separate state. We have seen in the recent past how this was believed not only by the international media but also by those engaged in diplomacy. No more is this capital of its dream separate state the property of the LTTE," he said.
Kilinochchi, located on the A9 highway linking the northern Jaffna peninsula with the south of the island, was the only main town the rebels controlled with the fall of Jaffna, the cultural capital of the Tamil minority to the government troops in December1995. The Tigers, much to the surprise of the military, led a massive assault on the Kilinochchi army garrison in September 1998and was in control of the town since then.
What does the fall of Kilinochchi mean? The retired Brigadier VS Boteju said the fall of Kilinochchi has weakened the group militarily.
"They will not be able to call this a tactical withdrawal. There is no room for them to make a comeback. Only the sea is now left for them to withdraw," he said.
Iqbal Athas, a well-known defense analyst, said the defeat had shattered the very foundation of the LTTE.
"For over 10 years they ran a de facto state from there with a court system, a police setup and their own banking system. All that will stop now", Athas said.
With the Norwegian-backed peace process and running Kilinochchias its peace secretariat headquarters, the Tigers themselves had given importance to Kilinochchi as a vital location of their campaign.
From a military point of view, Athas said the fall of Kilinochchi would be of much significance.
"The Army would now be able to use the A9 highway without any hindrance. The troops in Jaffna would no longer be solely relying on supplies through ships. The transport on ships was a costly affair so it will now become a lot cheaper for the military," he said.
Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan alias Karuna, the former LTTE eastern commander and was once the number two in the organization, said the troops had dealt a bloody blow to the Tiger outfit.
"Their administrative structure is completely gone with it" said Karuna, whose breaking ranks with the LTTE in March 2003 marked the first public sign of the LTTE's disintegration.
Karuna's defection from the LTTE to form his own political group was seen as a powerful reason for the government troops defeating the LTTE in the east. Karuna is now a strong ally of the Sri Lankan President and a parliamentarian in the ruling coalition of Rajapakse.
Dharmalingam Siddharthan, the leader of a rival organization People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE), said despite the fall, the civil war in the island is far from over.
"They will retain their capability to strike but will not be able to hit back at the Army to regain lost territory", Siddharthan, whose father was among those assassinated by the Tiger outfit in the long drawn-out military campaign, said.
The Army chief Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka has vowed to keep hammering at the rebels, preventing them from going underground in Mullaithivu. He said the rebels will be crushed further so as to completely eradicate them. Kilinochchi has fallen but the war will go on.
K Srikantha, a parliamentarian of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) said the fall would lead to a protracted campaign of guerrilla warfare by the Tiger rebels. His colleague Chandrakanthan Chandraneru stressed the need for a political solution to see a meaningful end to the problem.
"The fall of Kilinochchi was much expected. Continuing with the war without offering a political package to the Tamils would be of no use. Towns may fall but the problem will remain," Chandraneru said.
He said the troops clearing the eastern province in mid 2007 was a good example.
The retired General Cyril Ranatunga, a former defense ministry secretary during the height of the LTTE campaign in the 1990s, said the government would need credible and strong intelligence sources to see an end to the problem.
"A political solution is a must and the government must take action to protect all citizens", Ranatunga asserted.
"The government made the mistake of not offering a political solution when Jaffna fell in 1995. Least they could do now is not to repeat the same mistake", an analyst who did not want to be named also said.
The rebels, who sought to create a separate Tamil homeland covering almost two thirds of the island's 65,000 sq km, has now been limited to a small jungle patch in Mullaithivu to the east of Kilinochchi or the north-eastern coast.
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