Rajapakse hails Sampoor ‘capture’

[TamilNet, Monday, 04 September 2006, 08:20 GMT]
Sri Lanka Army (SLA) troops have advanced into Sampur village in the LTTE-controlled part of the eastern Trincomalee district and are consolidating their positions, the government said Monday in Colombo. LTTE political officials in Trincomalee said fighting was ongoing in the Sampoor region. “This is a severe breach of the ceasefire agreement with the Sri Lankan military taking LTTE-controlled areas,” S. Puleedevan, head of the LTTE peace secretariat, told Reuters. “They are not honoring the ceasefire agreement. They are forcing it to the brink of collapse,” he added. “On our side we are fully committed to it.”

"Our troops have captured Sampoor," President Mahinda Rajapakse said to thunderous applause at a rally to mark the 55th anniversary of the founding of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party, AFP reported.

President Rajapakse defended the latest military offensive and praised Sri Lanka Army (SLA) chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

President Rajapakse’s announcement comes a week after the military launched a major ground, air and sea offensive towards LTTE-held Sampoor, sparking heavy fighting.

Reuters quoted analysts as saying the Tigers appeared to have pulled out of Sampoor, a tiny settlement containing a handful of rough houses and shops, a Sea Tiger memorial and an LTTE political office.

Most of the civilian population had already fled south, amid heavy Sri Lankan air and artillery bombardments.

The Tigers in the Sampoor region were continuing to put up resistance that had slowed the SLA advance, LTTE officials said Monday.

It has taken over a week for the thousands of Sri Lankan troops to move the 3.5 kms from its Kaddaiparichchan base to Sampoor village, they said.

The military had virtually suspended a ground advance towards Sampoor at the weekend, following intense LTTE resistance, AFP reported.

But the Tigers had moved out of Sampoor to avoid heavy Sri Lankan bombardment, analysts said.

"The only resistance we encountered was mines and booby-trapped devices." Government spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told AFP.

"We captured the main Sampoor artillery position of the Tigers. We suspect they dismantled the guns or pulled them back. We are now in Sampoor," he said.

The government had justified its offensive against LTTE-held Sampoor on the basis LTTE artillery there was threatening the Navy base at Trincomalee harbour, 10km across the Koddiya Bay.

“This is not war, we are only responding to an attack on us,” President Rajapakse told the SLFP rally.

However the LTTE says it was compelled to fire on the base to defend against a major Sri Lankan offensive launched July 21 against its positions in Maavil Aru, Trincomalee on the pretext of opening a disputed water channel.

Speaking to TamilNet Monday, Head of the LTTE Political Wing in Sampoor, Mr. S. Elilan, said that Sri Lanka government’s “undeclared aggression” began in April.

From the outset, the Sri Lankan strategy has centred around the targetting of civilian centres and the creation of a humanitarian crisis, he said. “Since April 97 civilians have been killed, 215 wounded and 46,000 displaced.”

Earlier, LTTE officials said the Sri Lanka military is deliberately razing Tamil villages to the ground as part of its offensive against the LTTE in Trincomalee.

Through Norwegian facilitators, the LTTE has condemned in the “strongest possible terms Sri Lanka's 'scorched earth' policy of occupying Tamil civilian centers and rendering them uninhabitable,” the LTTE's military spokesman, I. Ilanthirayan, said Friday.

The villages were bombarded with heavy artillery and multi-barrel rocket launchers before ground troops occupied them, LTTE officials in Sampoor said.

Subsequently cultivated fields and livestock were destroyed, they added.

Aid workers say the government is hampering access to Tiger-held territory, and obstructing their operations by insisting staff obtain special work permits to go to the north and east, Reuters reported Monday.

“I think the idea is try and stop aid reaching LTTE areas,” an aid worker told Reuters on condition of anonymity.


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