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29 February 2024

Sri Lankan military seizes key rebel crossroads

Sri Lanka’s military seized a key crossroads in the north from the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels Thursday after fierce clashes that killed at least 29 fighters, an official said.

Capturing the strategic Paranthan junction is the latest in a series of battle successes for the government, which has vowed to defeat the insurgents this year to end their 25-year separatist campaign.

Government officials made the same prediction last year but faced stiff rebel resistance.

Military spokesman Brig. Udaya Nanayakkara said that taking control of Paranthan after about six weeks of fighting will open a new front against the guerrillasÕ de facto capital of Kilinochchi, which is 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to the south.

It also will isolate a rebel stronhold at Elephant Pass to the north and allow soldiers to march into northeastern rebel territory, he said.

Parnthan has eluded the military for months despite top officials’ claims of its imminent fall.

About 25 rebels and four soldiers were killed in the fighting, Nanayakkara said.

The latest government offensives have forced the rebels to abandon much territory and retreat into an increasingly shrinking area in the northeast.

Rebel officials could not be contacted for comment. It is difficult to verify battle accounts because reporters are barred from the war zone. Both the government and rebels are known to exaggerate enemy casualties and underreport their own losses.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 to create an independent homeland for the minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization by successive governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. The conflict has killed more than 70,000 people.