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Sri Lanka's Military Says Last Rebel Bastion in East Captured

Sri Lanka's military says it has captured the last stronghold of Tamil Tiger rebels in the east of the country. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the military is claiming a major victory in its fight against the rebels, who have mounted a quarter century-long campaign for an autonomous Tamil homeland.

A defense military statement says commandoes and soldiers took control of Thoppigala jungle base in the eastern Batticaloa district around dawn Wednesday.

Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe says the capture of the jungle base from the rebels, who are also known as the LTTE, is significant.

"It's a major victory, because that is the area where the LTTE had the strongest bases for the past so many years. They are doing the clearing operations and mopping up operations," he said.

In recent months, government and rebel forces have battled intensely for control of the Thoppigala area. The rebels used it as their main command and control center for the eastern province since the mid-1990s. It was their last remaining bastion in the east, where they have steadily lost ground in the past year after being routed from several bases.

The capture of the Thoppigala base brings eastern Sri Lanka under government control for the first time in 15 years.

Defense analysts say that resistance by the rebels is likely to continue however. They point out that military gains in the east will not help to bring an end to the rebel campaign for a separate Tamil homeland in the east and north of the country.

The rebels still control huge swathes of territory in the north, where they run a virtual state.

Jehan Perera heads a peace advocacy group in Colombo, the National Peace Council. He warns that the conflict could deepen in the coming months.

"We are heading for an escalation in the crisis in the country due to the ongoing military operations," said Perera. "For one thing, there is going to be increased bloodshed, displacement and destruction of property. We anticipate a very brutal and bloody period ahead if the government does choose to attack the north."

The international community has been pressuring both the government and the rebels to resume peace talks that broke down last October, but analysts say they see no signs of either side returning to the negotiating table any time soon.

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