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Sri Lankan Army Captures Key Tamil Rebel Sea Base


The Sri Lankan military says it is one step closer to ending a 25-year uprising by ethnic Tamil militants fighting for a separate homeland in this Indian Ocean island's northern tip. The military says it has captured a key rebel sea base.

The area in northeastern Sri Lanka that is controlled by the country's rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, gets smaller every day.

Sri Lankan army spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara says the capture of the rebel naval base at Chalai is another sign that Asia's longest-running war is coming to an end.

"Strategically, the was another logistic base where they got all their supplies," he said. "With the capturing of this [sea base] all their supply activities will be completely curtailed."

The capture of the rebel naval base could not be independently verified since Sri Lanka's government prohibits journalists from entering war-affected areas.

Nanayakkara said more than 1,000 civilians fled a government-controlled safe zone to escape intense fighting in the northeast, where the Tamil Tigers are trying to defend their last-remaining strongholds.

Civilians trapped in fighting

A huge number of civilians are trapped in the fighting and civilian casualties are rising, says the U.N. and other relief agencies.

Sarasi Wijeratne is the spokesperson for the International Committee for the Red Cross, which is operating in the war-hit areas.

"We estimate there to be about 250,000 people who have been caught in the fighting," said Wijeratne. "And there are concerns for the physical safety because of ongoing combat operations and these people being confined to an increasingly small area."

About 300 patients, mainly civilians wounded in the conflict, were evacuated to a community center within rebel-held territory, aid workers say. The hospital where they were staying had been repeatedly shelled in the fighting.

The government has urged civilians to move to a "safe zone" near town of Mullaittivu, but human rights groups and some diplomatic sources say Tamil rebels often refuse to allow people to leave.

The Tamil Tiger rebels have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland for Sri Lanka's Tamil minority. More than 70,000 people have died in the conflict.


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