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Sri Lanka Military Claims Successes Against Rebel Strongholds in East


The Sri Lankan military says it has made advances in rebel-held areas in the east of the country. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, thousands of civilians are reported to be fleeing the fighting.

Sri Lankan defense officials say the army has captured four bases of the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam after heavy fighting.

A military spokesman, Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe, says ground troops backed by artillery advanced before dawn Friday on areas held by the rebels, who are also referred to as the LTTE.

"Troops moved in today morning. Yesterday, whole day, troops were getting the support of artillery and multi-rocket barrel launchers, and troops moved in and cleared all four bases of LTTE in Trincomalee north als," he said.

Officials say thousands of civilians are fleeing rebel-held territory in neighboring Batticaloa district, where government forces are also advancing. Human rights groups say the civilians fear their villages will turn into battlegrounds between the two sides.

Samarasinghe says troops are trying to clear out rebel-held areas in the district.

"Troops are now in the process of neutralizing this LTTE threat from Batticaloa south and Batticaloa north," he said. "Civilians in those areas, they are now coming to the government-controlled areas from LTTE-controlled areas, up to now 18,045 civilians have come."

In recent months, the military has made headway in capturing rebel territory in the east, which is one of the rebels' traditional strongholds. In January, troops captured the eastern town of Vakarai from the rebels.

Reports say the military now hopes to capture the last rebel bastions in the eastern districts of Batticaloa and Ampara. The government has said it wants to clear the rebels out of the eastern part of the country completely.

The Tamil Tigers have warned of a bloodbath if the international community does not prevent the military from continuing with what rebels say is a plan to wipe them out.

After a relative lull of several years, Sri Lanka's long-running civil war erupted again 15 months ago when peace talks stalled. The rebels want an autonomous homeland in the north and east of the country for the minority Tamil community.

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