Sri Lankan army says Tamil Tigers close to losing firepower

January 23, 2009 (AFP) – Sri Lankan troops have advanced to a key area held by Tamil Tigers and are on the verge of destroying the rebels’ artillery, a military official said Friday. Soldiers were on the verge of taking the village of Visuamadu in the district of Mullaittivu, where Tamil Tiger rebels have been forced to retreat in the face of a major military onslaught, spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara said.

“After we take Visuamadu village, the Tigers will not be in a position to use their artillery guns,” Nanayakkara said.

Security forces Wednesday seized a command centre of the Tigers while moving closer to the town of Mullaittivu, the Tigers’ last urban stronghold.

Tamil Tiger rebels have been waging a drawn-out fight for independence for the island’s minority Tamils since 1972.

Sri Lanka’s army has said it hopes to crush remaining rebel resistance by April.

The Tigers have not commented on their recent setbacks but the pro-rebel Tamilnet.com website accused the military of shelling a makeshift hospital in Mullaittivu.

It said 66 civilians were killed during the past three days, a charge denied by the military.