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Sri Lanka: Hell Is A Very Small Place
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January 23, 2009:  As the LTTE is forced back into a corner (400 square kilometers) of northeast Sri Lanka (including about 40 kilometers of coastline). There, several thousand LTTE gunmen are accompanied by over 200,000 civilians (many involuntarily). In the last week or so, 300-400 of these civilians a week have fled to government controlled territory. The army has surrounded the coastal town of Mullaittivu, which is the center of LTTE operations. The army believes it can destroy this last LTTE enclave in about three months.

The government accuses the LTTE of hiding its gunmen among civilians. There are nearly 500 civilians per square kilometer in the area around Mullaittivu. This makes it difficult for the army to fire back at the LTTE, without hitting nearby civilians.  The army has established a "no fire" zone around the LTTE enclave, which LTTE civilians can safely flee to. Some 50-60 civilians a day are being killed or wounded. LTTE fighters don't use military camps anymore, but take shelter among groups of civilians.

The army reports that it has suffered about 20,000 casualties in the last three years (including 3,700 dead). That means that anyone joining the Sri Lankan army in that period had about a seven percent chance of being killed or wounded, and that was much higher (closer to fifty percent) if you were an infantryman in a unit stationed in the north.

Troops are on the alert for Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who has not yet shown up any place by Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran may be hiding among the Tamil civilians under LTTE control, or he may have escaped by boat to India (where many pro-LTTE Tamils in southern India would shelter him.

The LTTE has prevented 78 UN air workers from leaving LTTE controlled territory. The government has long accused the LTTE of using foreign aid to build their armed forces, and employing foreign aid workers as human shields.

January 21, 2009: An LTTE single engine aircraft, trying to leave Sri Lanka, was forced to turn back by anti-aircraft fire from navy gunboats. This confirms that the LTTE has at least one of these aircraft left. The LTTE used up to five of these Czech aircraft to make nine (largely ineffective) night bombing raids on government targets.

January 19, 2009: A half dozen or more LTTE boats sought to leave  the coastal town of Mullaittivu at night, but the navy intercepted them and sunk four. The other LTTE boats turned back to shore.

January 18, 2009: Troops captured an LTTE shipbuilding yard, and found two speedboats, and seven smaller suicide bomb boats, under construction.

January 17, 2009: Troops captured an LTTE command center near the village of Maruthampuvel.

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