Mahinda Rajapakse, Sri Lanka’s president, has been predicting the imminent fall of Kilinochchi, one of the two main areas still in the hands of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for several months.
The LTTE, which is fighting for a separate ethnic homeland in the north and east of the country, made no comment on the military’s claims but accused government forces of shelling civilians inside rebel-held territory.
“Three civilians … were reported to have sustained some injuries due to a December 6 shelling,” the Tamil Tigers said in rare statement issued on Monday.
By contrast, the government, which ordered all aid groups to pull out of the north citing security concerns, has accused the LTTE of using civilians as human shields.
Communcation links with the Tamil Tiger-controlled areas in the north have been largely severed by a major military offensive begun at the beginning of the year.
Independent verification of the two sides’ claims is almost impossible to achieve as journalists are prevented from travelling to the area.
Officials from Sri Lanka’s ruling People’s Alliance said on Monday that Rajapakse was preparing to call local elections in at least two councils in the northwestern and central parts of the island to test public support for the war.
“The North-Western and Central Provincial Councils could be dissolved in a matter of days and elections called within about five weeks,” a senior minister said, declining to be named.
Rajapakse, who pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce in January, has been relying on a military success against the separatists and has said he will not accept anything short of the Tamil Tigers’ total surrender.
Up to 300,000 ethnic Tamil civilians are reported to have been displaced in the north as human rights and aid groups have voiced alarm over the humanitarian situation tin the region.