Home International LTTE will be defeated by year-end: Sri Lanka Army chief

LTTE will be defeated by year-end: Sri Lanka Army chief

By P.K. Balachandran, IANS

Colombo : The Sri Lankan Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, has said that the Tamil Tiger rebels will be militarily defeated before he retires from service at the end of this year.

“I do not want to leave this problem to the next army commander,” the general, who would be retiring in December, told newspersons here Friday.

“We (the armed forces) are doing very well. And at the rate we are going, there will be major changes in the coming six to seven months. You will see a different LTTE then,” he said.

Indeed, political and military circles in Colombo are already seeing a change in the LTTE.

They see the LTTE’s wanting to stick to the ceasefire agreement, even after the Sri Lankan government had unilaterally annulled it Jan 3, as a sign of weakness and desperation.

According to Gen. Fonseka, the LTTE has been losing its fighting cadres rapidly.

In the last two years, they had lost 2,300 cadres in the east and about 1,500 in the north, which had reduced their strength to about 4,500 cadres, he claimed.

“That they have been weakened is evident in the fact that they do not carry away their battlefield dead the way they used to. Earlier, our troops would not be able to see LTTE bodies, now they do.”

“Secondly, with dwindling cadre strength, they are throwing young girls into battle. In the recent attack on their bunker lines in Mannar, we recovered bodies of 16-year-old girls,” Gen. Fonseka said.

Hinting at dissensions within the LTTE, the Sri Lankan army commander said that it was possible that the fighting units of the LTTE were not obeying the orders of chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.

When asked why Prabhakaran had not made an appearance at any ceremony held to mark the killing of his military intelligence chief, Col. Charles, General Fonseka said that Prabhakaran might be having a problem.

But he did not specify whether Prabhakaran’s problem had anything to do with the injury the guerrilla leader had suffered in an air raid Nov 26 last year.

The LTTE, Gen. Fonseka said, were good fighters and were highly committed, but it was necessary to remember that most of their fighters had been forcibly recruited.

“Only 30 percent of the Tiger fighting cadres are volunteers. They rest had been forcibly recruited. These are sent to the front lines and forced to fight to the finish by others standing behind them with guns pointed at them,” he said.

Asked how long it would take for the Sri Lankan armed forces to take the northern districts, collectively known as the ‘Wanni’, and where the Tigers were holed up, the General said: “We are not in a hurry.”

“We want to reduce their strength through our operations. It is a war of attrition,” he explained.

Giving reasons for the successes scored by the army in the last two years as compared to the past, Gen. Fonseka said that postings and commands were now being given purely on merit and not on seniority.

“I am sending the 15th on the line to do a job instead of the 5th, if the former is more competent,” he said.

The intelligence that the armed forces are getting now is also better.

According to the general, this is so because he has asked the infantry in the field to collect the ground intelligence.

And such hard intelligence was being shared with the other services to good effect, he added.

The air force had hit targets, both on land and sea, based on army ground intelligence. Except for the last four ships, those sunk were taken up on the basis of army intelligence, the general claimed.

Above all, there was “very good” coordination between the armed forces and the country’s political leadership, he stressed.

Asked if he believed in a military solution to the ethnic conflict, the general said that he did not believe in a military solution.

“Ultimately, any solution will have to be political. But there can be a political solution only after the LTTE had laid down arms,” he clarified.

And it was the task of the Sri Lankan armed forces to break the LTTE militarily and thus pave the way for a political solution, he said.

“Once the LTTE is out of the way, the country’s political leaders can discuss devolution of power with Tamil parties and groups which are in the democratic stream,” the general said.