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Unprecedented momentum in Army offensive - SF Chronicle

US: For the first time in more than a decade, Sri Lankan Government Forces are making inroads into rebel strongholds and are within striking distance of their capital, said the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle yesterday.

A special article by the Chronicle Foreign Service reporter Jason Motlagh, quoted officials as saying that Asia’s longest running conflict could end soon. “There’s little dispute that the latest Army offensive has forced the guerrillas to abandon large parts of their de facto state and given the government unprecedented momentum.

An international crackdown on rebel fundraising and smuggling networks and high-level defections have also undermined grassroots support for the Tigers’ iron-willed chief, Velupillai Prabhakaran, most analysts agree,” Motlagh wrote.

Since January, when it scrapped a Norway-brokered cease-fire and vowed to crush the Tigers by the end of 2008, the Government has poured $1.5 billion into an all-out, multiple-front offensive that has killed about 6,000 Tigers and reduced their last stronghold in the island’s northern Wanni region by nearly 75 per cent, according to the Ministry of Defence.

The Defence Ministry says military gains began in June, when Forces seized the strategic Mannar Peninsula. In July, they overran a Tiger naval facility and four more key bases.

The army is now attempting to seal off the northwest coast to cut a vital Tiger weapons supply line from southern India, while simultaneously driving up the eastern flank. The military says it is within seven miles of Kilinochchi, the Tigers’ de facto capital and nerve centre, where Prabhakaran is believed to be hiding in an underground bunker. Fierce clashes are expected, as hundreds of Tigers’ elite forces are said to be dug in awaiting a final siege.

The Chronicle said a worldwide dragnet led by the United States and the international police organisation, Interpol, on fundraising and arms smuggling has seriously hurt the Tigers, which are listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Dozens of Tiger financiers and arms merchants have been arrested in the United States, Canada, Europe and India, according to press reports.

Last April, New York police arrested Karunakaran Kandasamy, the Tigers’ alleged U.S. fundraising director. He has been charged with operating a front organization that held several fundraising events at a church and public schools. And in June, the World Tamil Movement, a Toronto nonprofit group, wired more than $3 million to overseas bank accounts linked to the Tigers before its operations were shut down by the Canadian government for alleged terrorist financing, according to a report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A joint India-Sri Lanka naval blockade of the Palk Strait waterway that separates the two countries has further diminished the flow of arms, provisions and materials according to several analysts.

But even if the Tigers are defeated as a conventional fighting force, experts say, there is a consensus that it could regroup in remote jungle areas to wage a protracted guerrilla war, it said.

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