Tamil Tigers cornered by Sri Lankan army

Rebels in desperate fight to defend last stronghold against government forces

Amid driving monsoon rain, a bitter and bloody battle is being fought for one of the Tamil Tigers' last strongholds - a battle that could mark a decisive turning point in Sri Lanka's 25-year-old civil war.

Government troops, buoyed by their recent capture of the entire western coast of the island, have been pressing to take control of the northern town of Kilinochchi. The town has been the Tigers' de facto headquarters and they are fighting desperately to hold onto it. In recent days, scores of troops on both sides have reportedly been killed.

Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, elected three years ago, has been adamant in his determination to destroy the Tigers. Reports suggest the man who formally pulled out of a long-failing ceasefire agreement in January is likely to use the success he has had so far to cement his political power by calling an early election. Analysts say such a move would held protect him from criticism over the country's badly stumbling economy

"Heavy fighting is going on in the three locations. The rain has started, but it will not affect the troops," said military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara. "But the hazards faced by everybody will also be faced by troops."

He said that government troops were position about three miles north-west of the town and barely one mile to the south-west. "Soldiers are trying to negotiate the earth [wall] south of Kilinochchi, and are probing the defences," he added.

Yet other reports suggest the government may be losing higher than expected numbers of soldiers, both through fighting and desertion. An amnesty for deserters has recently been announced by the government in order to try and lure back those fleeing soldiers.

The Tamil Tigers have been fighting for an independent homeland for ethnic Tamils since 1983. They say since Sri Lanka's independence from Britain in 1948, Tamils have been routinely discriminated against by the Buddhist Sinhalese majority. The civil war, which has seen human rights abuses committed by both sides, has claimed at least 70,000 lives and probably considerably more.

The three-front push on Kilinochchi follows the government's capture two weeks ago of the northern town of Pooneryn, a strategic location that had been the hands of the Tigers since 1993. Government troops are also said to be attacking the Tiger-held towns of Paranthan and the eastern coast stronghold of Mullaittivu.

Observers say that both sides regularly inflate the number of casualties inflicted on each other. Independent verification of such reports are all but impossible given that both the government and the Tigers' refuse access for journalists. As a result, this long and dirty war is effectively being fought out in secret.

What is known is that the advance on the northern strongholds has left hundreds of thousands of people in a desperate situation. Amnesty International said last week that up to 300,000 people were trapped by the fighting and that the Tigers were even using civilians as a buffer against the encroaching government forces. "The humanitarian crisis in the Wanni region of northern Sri Lanka is worsening as the government fails to provide shelter and protect over 300,000 displaced civilians," it said.

Meanwhile another watchdog group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), yesterday said that pro-government militias operating in the "liberated" east of Sri Lanka a were responsible for a worsening wave of killings and child abductions. The group said that the TMVP, made up of former Tigers who switched sides and which emerged as the dominants political force after the Tigers fled the east last year, were responsible for at least 30 murders and 30 kidnappings in September and October.

"The Sri Lankan government says that the liberated east is an example of democracy in action and a model for areas recaptured from the [Tigers]," said HRW's Brad Adams. "But killings and abductions are rife and there is total impunity for horrific abuses."

In the east, part of the problem may be factionalism within the TMVP, with different factions loyal to Col Karuna Amman, the former Tigers' commander who created the organisation, and Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan, known as Pillayan, who was appointed the chief minister of Sri Lanka's eastern province in May.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine