Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa says government troops have taken control of the Tamil Tigers' headquarters town, Kilinochchi, for the first time in a decade.
Within hours of the announcement, police said a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near the air force headquarters in the center of the capital, Colombo. The blast killed three airmen and wounded at least 37 other people.
In a nationally televised address today, Friday, President Rajapaksa described the capture of the rebel stronghold as an "unparalleled victory." He urged the rebels to surrender. The capture of Kilinochchi is a huge blow to the rebels and their 25-year-old war for an independent homeland for the nation's Tamil minority.
The town served as the rebels' political and administrative headquarters.There was no immediate comment from the Tamil Tigers, but the rebel-affiliated Web site Tamilnet said the rebels had moved their headquarters further to the northeast before the town fell.
Independent verification of either side's claims is impossible because journalists are barred from entering the conflict zone. After the president's announcement of Kilinochchi's fall, people in Colombo lit firecrackers and drove through the streets waving the Sri Lankan flag in celebration. Officials say troops breached the northern town's defenses at two locations and took over key landmarks following fierce fighting.
The military is carrying out an aggressive campaign to take control of northern Sri Lankan territories from the Tamil rebels.The rebels have previously vowed to fight on, even if their de facto capital fell.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid called the Tamil Tigers "one of the most notorious and brutal terrorist organizations" of the last 20 years, but also called for peaceful dialogue to "resolve the legitimate issues of the Tamils" in Sri Lanka.Government troops took control of Kilinochchi in 1996, but the rebels overran the town again two years later.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 to establish an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east. The conflict has killed more than than 70-thousand people.