Sri Lanka`s military said it seized a key coastal territory that served as a supply point for Tamil Tiger rebels in the north on Sunday, a day after it announced a major operation to oust separatists from the region.
The military began the offensive on Saturday aimed at seizing control of areas south of Mannar, saying rebels were holding some 6,000 civilians who want to escape conscription.
`The army has Silavathurai and Arippu areas (in Mannar) under control,` military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The soldiers also captured a camp belonging to the Sea Tigers, the separatist rebels` naval wing, in Silavathurai village, Samarasinghe said.
Three boats and a large number of anti-personnel mines and detonators were found. There were no reports of casualties, he said.
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka claimed it as a significant victory for the military as the Tigers used the base to smuggle in arms and ammunition.
Phone calls by The AP to rebel spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan went unanswered.
Mannar, about 220 kilometers (135 miles) northwest of Colombo, has become a flashpoint in the country`s escalating conflict.
Military troops routed the rebels from Eastern Province in early July, giving the government total control of the region for the first time in 13 years. However, much of the north remains under the control of the rebels, who run a virtual state there.
`This is an extension of the government plan after the east. I think there is a design to take Vavuniya and Mannar districts under control,` military analyst, retired Air Marshall Harry Goonetilleke said.
Goonetilleke said losing Mannar is a setback to the Tigers only in terms of territory, and will not affect their unloading of armaments. He also predicted that the Tiger`s would put up a bigger fight in their northern heartland.
`This (Mannar) is not their home ground, after Vavuniya and Mannar, fighting in the deep north will be different, there the Tigers will be on their home ground,` he said.