Jaffna sealed by troops

THE Sri Lankan military said yesterday that its troops were on the verge of capturing the rebel citadel of Jaffna. A military spokesman said the town was sealed off by government forces leaving the Tamil Tiger rebels inside with two choices: "either to surrender or commit suicide by swallowing the cyanide capsules hung around their necks".

Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe, the chief military spokesman, said: "We are now in full control of the town, barring small pockets of resistance." The capture of Jaffna, which had been ruled by the Tamils as virtually a separate mini-state since 1990, has cost the Sri Lankan armed forces a heavy price. The Tamil Tigers have yet to confirm Jaffna's fall.

During the 46-day assault on Jaffna, more than 500 Sri Lankan soldiers were killed, along with an estimated 2,000 Tamil rebels. More than 500,000 Tamils were left homeless by the offensive.

"We are not in the town centre, but we have sealed off the area and no one can go in or out," the military spokesman said. The Tiger defenders would be cleared out within the next 48 hours. Military sources said that between 500 and 1,000 Tamil Tigers had stayed behind to resist the government troops, while the rest vanished into the jungles south of Jaffna to regroup for later guerrilla attacks.

One of the last buildings to fall in Jaffna was a 17th-century Dutch fortress beside the lagoon which rebels had used as their main garrison.

The military's advance up to the star-shaped fortress was slowed, often to several hundred yards a day, by fierce Tamil Tiger resistance.

The Tiger chief, Velupillai Prabakharan, escaped Jaffna with the bulk of his rebel force and has vowed to fight on for a separate homeland in Sri Lanka.

Still, Jaffna's capture has shattered the myth of the Tigers' invincibility, which arose through the rebels' use of suicide assassins. The government must now persuade the half a million Tamil refugees to return to the area newly-captured by the Sri Lankan military. The Tamils are a minority in Sri Lanka, whose majority are Sinhalese.

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