Sri Lankan Army Captures Key Tamil Tiger Stronghold

The Sri Lankan government has captured the headquarters of Tamil Tiger rebels in the north of the country dealing a huge blow to their separatist struggle to establish a Tamil homeland. Shortly after the announcement was made a suspected suicide bomber killed at least two people in the capital Colombo, and injured at least 30 others, in a sign the rebels are continuing their violent campaign.

The triumphant announcement that the rebel base in Kilinochchi has fallen to the army was made by Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse in a televised nationwide address Friday.

President Rajapakse called it a spectacular victory for the armed forces, and called on the rebels to surrender.

Across Colombo, people lit firecrackers, danced in the streets and waved Sri Lankan flags.

The army secured the town - considered the main bastion of the rebels - after heavy fighting with the Tamil Tigers who had vowed to defend their political capital.

Kilinochchi has been serving as the political and administrative headquarters of the Tamil Tigers, and they have established courts, police stations and a bank in the town.

The government spokesman for defense, Keheliya Rambukwella, told VOA, wresting Kilinochchi from the rebels is a big step forward in the military campaign to defeat the Tamil Tigers.

"Their complete administration and infrastructure will be dismantled to great extent," he said. "Which means it is a huge setback and there will be very little left for them to activate their terror activities."

But a suicide bombing within hours of the capture of Killinochchi indicated that the rebels retain the ability to strike back and are in no mood to surrender.

Officials say a suicide bomber riding a motorcycle detonated a powerful explosion near the air force headquarters in the heart of Colombo during the afternoon rush hour. Several airmen and civilians were killed or injured in the blast.

Suicide bombings are a trademark of the rebels, and have carried out numerous such attacks during their 25-year-long campaign to carve out a separate state for the nation's ethnic Tamil minority.

Until a year ago, the rebels controlled huge swathes of territory in the north, but they have steadily lost ground since the military began its campaign to evict them from their northern bases. In 2007, the rebels had been forced out of their eastern bases.

Minister Rambukwella is optimistic that the Tamil Tigers, having lost the east and faced with heavy reverses in the north, will no longer be a major threat.

"There is total disarray within the organization. International support has receded," he said. "They know that this is not a battle that they could ever, ever win. It would be lunacy for them to again think they could get what they want through the barrel of the gun."

But the Tamil Tigers have said earlier they will fight on even if Killinochchi falls. Analysts warn that the Tamil Tigers, known as some of the fiercest guerrilla fighters in the world, have regrouped after suffering huge reverses in the past.