Sri Lanka steps up air strikes after capturing town

November 16, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka stepped up air attacks against suspected rebel targets in the island’s north Sunday, a day after ground troops re-captured a highly strategic town, the defence ministry said. Mi-24 helicopter gunships and fighter jets were deployed to pound defence lines of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the Jaffna peninsula and on the mainland, the defence ministry said.

“Sri Lanka air force has launched a series of air strikes in support of ground troops in the Muhamalai area,” the ministry said in a statement.

The attacks came a day after Sri Lanka’s president asked Tamil Tiger rebels to surrender after troops said they had re-taken the town of Pooneryn from the separatist guerrillas following months of heavy fighting.

President Mahinda Rajapakse said in a televised address to the nation that security forces took Pooneryn and the main northwestern coastal A-32 route on Saturday morning.

The town was taken by troops after several failed attempts during 15 years of Tiger occupation.

Military officials said the fall of Pooneryn was a severe blow to the Tigers who are defending their main de facto capital of Kilinochchi, further southeast, amid a