Sri Lanka Reportedly Takes Rebel Base in Army Offensive

Sri Lankan soldiers and rebel troops fought a fierce battle Friday over a town in the war-torn north as government troops pressed ahead with their offensive against the Tamil Tigers, the government said.

The army — backed by artillery, armored vehicles, fighter jets and helicopter gunships — has been attacking rebel forces across the Tamil stronghold of Mullaittivu for weeks, forcing the rebels to retreat from large portions of the area. The military said Friday it captured a rebel training base in the area.

On Thursday evening, government troops breached a fortification of packed earth built by the Tamil Tigers and entered the rebel-held town of Mulliawalai, the defense ministry said in a statement. Heavy fighting over the town continued throughout the day Friday, the statement said.

Fighting also broke out across the Jaffna and Kilinochchi battlefronts.

In keeping with policy, the military did not release casualty figures.

Rebel spokesmen were not reachable for comment on the fighting. However, the rebel-affiliated Web site TamilNet accused the government of hitting the main hospital in the town of Kilinochchi with artillery shells Thursday night, causing some damage to the building.

The report did not say whether there were casualties.

The Tamil Tigers have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the violence.