Colombo, Mar 9: Sri Lankan troops captured four Tamil Tiger bases and inflicted heavy casualties in the restive northeast before dawn today, the military said, pushing on with an offensive the rebels warn could end in a bloodbath.
Ground troops backed by artillery and multi-barrel rocket launchers advanced overnight on rebel-held territory in the district of Trincomalee, and around 150 Tiger fighters withdrew, military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said.
''We have cleared three major bases and (a satellite base).
The Tigers fled the area when we fired artillery and multi-barrel rocket launchers.'' ''We have cleared the area because (the Tigers) were a threat to the villages and the camps close by,'' he added.
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were not immediately available for comment and there was no independent confirmation of any casualties.
The capture comes a day after thousands of civilians fled Tiger-held territory further south in the district of Batticaloa, which troops are also trying to clear, as the foes battled with artillery and mortar bombs.
It also comes after months of deadly land and sea battles, ambushes and suicide attacks, violence that has killed about 4,000 people in the past 15 months and around 68,000 people since the two-decade civil war began in 1983.
The military has already captured a large coastal swathe of territory in recent months that the Tigers held under the terms of a now-tattered 2002 ceasefire pact, forcing the rebels to flee to areas of jungle further inland or to their northern base by sea.
The Tigers on Monday warned of a bloodbath if the international community was unable to convince the military to halt a declared plan to entirely wipe them out.
President Mahinda Rajapakse's government has vowed to unveil a power-sharing proposal within weeks, but rejects Tiger demands for a separate homeland.
The rebels have resumed their fight for an independent state for minority Tamils in north and east Sri Lanka, and analysts fear the conflict could escalate, hammering investment in the 23 billion dollar economy.