July 16, 2008 / 9:02 AM / 11 years ago

Sri Lanka military captures key northern town - govt

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops have captured a strategically important coastal town from the Tamil Tigers, the defence ministry said on Wednesday, as government forces continue their push against the rebels’ northern stronghold.

The ministry described the capture of the northwestern town of Vidattaltivu, which it said was the main base of the Tigers’ sea wing and their logistics hub for the west, as a “fatal blow” for the rebels.

Fighting in the 25-year civil war is now concentrated in the north after the Sri Lankan army, which has vowed to finish off the Tigers this year, drove the rebels out of their eastern enclave in 2007.

“Gallant soldiers of Army 58 Division and Commando Brigade have liberated the strategically important Vidattaltivu town this morning,” the defence ministry said in its website http://www.defence.lk.

It said it was the first time Sri Lankan troops had held the town since the departure of an Indian peacekeeping force in 1990.

The Tigers, fighting for an independent state in north and east Sri Lanka for ethnic Tamils, a minority in the predominantly Sinhalese country, were not immediately available for comment.

Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the long-running war given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island’s east, though they still see no clear winner on the horizon.

An estimated 70,000 people have died since the civil war began in 1983.

The Tigers regularly retaliate with suicide attacks increasingly targeting civilians and roadside bombs, experts and the military say, deterring some tourists and worrying investors in the $27 billion economy.

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