Sri Lanka Army (SLA) troops have advanced into Sampoor village in the LTTE-controlled part of the eastern Trincomalee district and are consolidating their positions, the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) said Monday.
LTTE political officials slammed the invasion as a severe breach of the February 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) said further 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 (GoSL) 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,” Mr. Puleedevan said.
“Our troops have captured Sampoor,” a jubilant 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.
“It looks as though the LTTE pulled out without any direct confrontation because of the artillery fire from the armed forces,” Sri Lankan military analyst Iqbal Athas told Reuters Monday.
Most of the civilian population had already fled south, amid heavy Sri Lankan air and artillery bombardments.
The government said Sunday 14 soldiers had been killed and 92 wounded since the Sampoor offensive began a week earlier and estimates around 120 Tigers were killed there by the weekend.
But on the first day off the offensive alone, AFP reporting from Trincomalee said 11 soldiers had been killed and 79 wounded, mainly by LTTE artillery and mortars.
And the Tigers said they early last week they had lost 12 fighters defending Sampoor and had killed around 50 SLA soldiers.
Tamil television footage Friday showed LTTE cadres moving around burning SLA APCs after one battle which left 10 soldiers dead.
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.
Last Monday, troops from Pachchanoor and Pallimunai SLA camps attempted to advance into Sampoor via Thoppur and Kilathimunai, Trincomalee
The initial two-pronged offensive was later changed amid stiff LTTE resistance, with one line of advance, through Thoppur, being abandoned, Tamil press reports said.
SLA troops were instead diverted to the advance through Kaddaiparichchan, a move which allowed LTTE forces in the Sampoor area to conduct an orderly withdrawal past Thoppur.
The Sri Lanka military had virtually suspended the ground advance through Kaddaiparichchan at the weekend, following intense LTTE resistance there, AFP reported.
SLA troops advanced when the Tigers 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.”
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.