Tiger controlled area shrinks to less than 400 square kms
Army calls for safe zone within Tiger-held territory

With the area under LTTE control in the Vanni, east of the A9, reduced to less than 400 square kilometres, the Army has declared a safe zone within the LTTE-held area to allow civilians to move in.

The Army said that this would help minimise civilian casualties as it pressed LTTE defences on the Vanni front. Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told The Island that the SLAF, over the weekend, had dropped leaflets urging the people to take advantage of the safe zone. He expressed confidence that large groups of people would reach the army lines.

According to him the boundaries of the safe zone are a four kilometre-long stretch to the north Udayarkattu junction and the yellow bridge along the Paranthan-Mullaitivu road up to Iruthumadu and another eight kilometre-stretch south of Iruthumadu upto Thevipuram.

At the time President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered a combined security forces offensive in August 2006, the LTTE controlled about a 15,000 square kilometre area in the northern and eastern provinces.

Army headquarters said that Vanni Security Forces Commander Major General Jagath Jayasuriya had requested Ms Valerie Petitpierre, Head of Sub Delegation ICRC, Vavuniya, to help implement the operation. Military sources said that the Army wanted the LTTE not to direct fire at troops from the area designated for civilians. Despite heavy fighting in the area, the ICRC maintains an office at Puthukudirippu, one of the LTTE strongholds targeted by the Army.

The Army said that troops continued to expand the area under their control at Ramanathapuram and Dharmapuram amid LTTE resistance. Both parties had suffered losses during Tuesday’s (Dec 20) clashes. The Army also engaged LTTE units east of Puthukudirippu and north-east of Mulliyawalai.

The Army said that troops advancing further eastwards down the Paranthan-Mullaitivu road had faced fierce resistance on Tuesday. Subsequent to heavy fighting north-east of Dharmapuram and Pulliyanpokkerni, the army had recovered the bodies of nine LTTE cadres, four T-56 assault weapons and one radio communication set also on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Task Force IV continued to push towards Puthukudirippu, one of the last major towns situated along the Paranthan-Mullaitivu road under LTTE control.

The SLAF Mi-24 helicopter gunships and jets on Wednesday (21) launched attacks on LTTE reinforcements about one kilometer South-east of Visuamadu and a logistic base located in the Piramanthalkulam area. 

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