The focus of the military is likely to shift from the East to the Wanni after the capture of Thoppigala while the government concentrates on reconstruction and resettlement in the newly captured areas.
Troops spearheaded by army commandos secured the jungle terrain of Thoppigala and declared their mission accomplished yesterday morning.
Battlefield victories wouldn`t stand in the way of the on-going efforts to evolve a political solution, sources close to President Mahinda Rajapakse told The Island last night.
Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said the troops had captured all major LTTE camps in the area and were in full control, thus bringing the whole of the Eastern Province under State control. `They have withdrawn from the jungles and small groups of Tigers, hiding in `pockets`, are fleeing to areas West of Thoppigala,` he said.
`We will be engaged in mopping up operations until the whole area is declared safe,` Samarasinghe said.
He didn`t however rule out the possibility of fleeing Tigers retaliating.
Troops captured 120 mm mortars, five tractors loaded with rations, five motorcycles, two bulldozers and five trucks from the fleeing Tigers.
Army Commandos had also taken control of Narakamulla and Taravikulam, where the LTTE had its Eastern head quarters and some of the key bases, he said.
Air Force fighter jets supported the ground troops with air cover repeatedly bombing identified LTTE targets.
Troops found a large number of mines left behind by the fleeing Tigers. The area has been heavily mined and booby trapped to prevent the army from advancing, according to sources.
Defence Spokesman and Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said, `This is a decisive and a major victory for the security forces and now the country has to move forward from here. Even the IPKF, with 30,000 troops, couldn`t capture Thoppigala in the 90s.`
The LTTE was able to apply a lot of pressure from the East and this defeat was a severe blow to them, he said.
Ramukwella lashed our at `armchair critics` and opposition politicians who were trying to belittle the efforts of the security forces by saying that the government was trying to gain political mileage from the battle for Thoppigala. He asked what they had to say now.
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka told The Island that he had his utmost faith in the troops and they had done exactly what was expected of them.
Asked whether the troops were capable of defeating the LTTE in the Wanni, the Army Chief said, `We will wipe them out.`