NPR logo Sri Lankan Troops Capture Rebel Stronghold

Sri Lankan Troops Capture Rebel Stronghold

Sri Lankan government troops on Friday encircled and captured the de facto capital of the Tamil Tigers rebel movement, seizing Kilinochchi in the island nation's north, the president said Friday.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa told a nationally televised news conference that troops had taken control of the town Friday for the first time in a decade. He appealed to the rebels — who have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland — to lay down their arms.

"We should pay the gratitude of the whole nation to those heroic soldiers who achieved that victory," Rajapaksa said.

Sri Lankan forces first took back rebel-controlled territory in the east before stepping up their military campaign in the north last year. Concern is now mounting for civilians trapped in areas north of Kilinochchi.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam captured Kilinochchi in Sri Lanka's northern Jaffna region a decade ago and moved their headquarters there. Tiger officials could not immediately be reached for comment. They have said in the past they would fight on if Kilinochchi fell.

Sri Lanka's military has been closing in on Kilinochchi since September. Over the past month, it has been assaulting Tiger defenses encircling the town, and both sides have claimed to have inflicted ever higher death tolls on the other.

From staff and wire reports