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Sri Lankan Military Presses Ahead with Offensive

  • Anjana Pasricha

In Sri Lanka, the military says it has captured more territory formerly held by Tamil Tigers, as it moves toward the last stronghold of the rebels. The island country also witnessed a second attack on the media, this week, when the editor of a newspaper critical of the government was shot and killed by a gunman. The Sri Lankan government has vowed to end a long-running ethnic conflict by crushing the rebels.

Nearly a week after capturing the rebel headquarters, Kilinochchi, the military said Thursday that it has overrun another town, Pallai, held by the Tamil Tigers.

The military is trying to open a key pass which connects the northern Jaffna Peninsula to the rest of the country. It was taken by the rebels, eight years ago. The military is then expected to take on the rebels in the last major town they hold, Mullaittivu.

Military spokesman, Udaya Nanayakkara, says forces are meeting with little resistance from the rebels.

"Troops [are] advancing on almost all fronts. They (the rebels) are not putting up much resistance, but they are trying their level best to defend the areas presently in Mullaittivu," he said.

The military believes the Tigers are concentrating their weapons and resources in Mullaittivu, for a last stand against the government.

The army is optimistic that, in the coming weeks, it will recapture all territory held by the rebels in the north, where they have been fighting since 1983 to establish an independent Tamil homeland.

The rebels have vowed to fight back, calling the recent reverses insignificant and saying they have recaptured lost territory, in the past.

As the battle with the rebels raged in the north, the media in Colombo came under attack for a second time since Tuesday.

The chief editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was shot and killed by an unknown gunman as he drove to work near the capital, Colombo.

The newspaper has been locked in a court battle with the president's brother, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, about stories it has carried criticizing the government's handling of the war and alleging corruption in procurement of defense equipment.

Rohan Edresinghe, at Colombo's independent think tank, the Center for Policy Alternatives, says concern is mounting that the government's war with the rebels is impacting democratic freedom.

"The other major casualty has been democratic freedom and human rights," said Edresinghe. "The concern is that some of these acts have been perpetrated by people who may have connections with the government or, at the very least, the government has not provided adequate security for people who dissent or people who voice a different point of view."

Tuesday, more than a dozen gunmen stormed the studios of Sri Lanka's biggest private broadcaster, smashing and torching equipment. The broadcaster had been called "unpatriotic" by sections of the state media for its coverage of the war against the rebels.

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