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Sri Lankan Military Captures Key Rebel-Held Towns in North

In Sri Lanka, the military says it has captured key areas held by Tamil Tiger rebels, in the north of the country. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the Sri Lankan army is on a major offensive to crush the rebels, who have been fighting for a Tamil homeland for 25 years.

A Sri Lankan military spokesman says that the navy sank two Tamil Tiger boats, damaged another and killed several rebels, Tuesday.

The sea battle took place as troops consolidated their hold on three strategic towns captured from the rebels in recent days.

The most important of these is Manukulam, which lies on a junction of a key highway and another road leading to the main rebel stronghold.

The army says the town was used by the Tamil Tigers as a crucial supply route to the north.

Manukulam was captured Monday -- just two days after the military said it had taken control of another key town, Pooneryn. from the rebels.

Military spokesman, Udaya Nanayakkra says the military now controls the entire western coast of the island nation for the first time in a decade. He says this will hamper the rebels from operating in the sea.

"Complete western coastal area has been liberated now and we have completely stopped the Sea Tiger activities in that area," Nanayakkra said.

The government says the recent battlefield successes are "psychologically important" for troops trying to drive the rebels out of the north, where they control vast stretches of territory.

An independent assessment of the fighting in the north is difficult, because journalists are barred from the area.

However, analysts agree that the military has made significant advances against the rebels. But the head of Colombo's National Peace Council, Jehan Perera, says the rebels, who are also known as the LTTE, still remain a formidable fighting force.

"Certainly the LTTE is under pressure," Perera said. "LTTE has been giving way all the time… They have lost large amount of territory. But from what we know they still retain the bulk of their weaponry and also their core fighters, who number several thousands, so it is still premature to say that the LTTE has been irreversibly weakened."

The Sri Lankan military's next target is the main rebel stronghold, Killinochi. The government has vowed to crush the rebels, who have been fighting for an autonomous homeland for the minority Tamil community since 1983.