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Lankan Army's game plan: Seize East and weaken LTTE in North

The Lankan army's game plan is to drive the LTTE out of the Eastern districts completely, and weaken it in the Northern districts, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: May 28, 2007 18:50 IST
PK Balachandran

The Sri Lankan Army's game plan is to drive the LTTE out of the Eastern districts completely, and weaken it in the Northern districts, to pave the way for talks to find a permanent political solution to the Tamil question, says its Commander, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.

"In five to six months we will completely mop up the LTTE in the East," the General told select foreign journalists here on Monday.

But to one's surprise, he added: "We have no plan to take the North."

"Our plan in the North is to weaken the LTTE militarily so that we are able to maintain our positions there," he explained.

Gen Fonseka is a tough-as-nails man who had miraculously survived an assassination attempt on April 25, 2006.

An LTTE female suicide bomber had sneaked into the Army HQ in Colombo and nearly got him, while he was on his way home for lunch. Fonseka was badly injured in the stomach and was out of commission for several months. He is now completely alright.



The attack on him triggered the

aerial war in which Sri Lankan jets began bombarding the Tamil North almost daily,displacing lakhs of civilians and causing an

international uproar.

He believed that there should be a political solution, a permanent settlement of the ethnic conflict which had been dogging the island country for more than two decades.

But that could not happen so long as the LTTE was militarily strong, he argued.

The LTTE Supremo, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was not interested in peace and would have to be forced to come for a settlement, the General said.

Prabhakaran dreaded peace. " He would not be able to move around freely if there was peace. He would have to be in hiding and ruling like a military dictator," the Sri Lankan Army chief said.

Therefore, the Sri Lankan Army and its sister forces were on the job of militarily weakening the LTTE, he added.

POLITICAL GRIEVANCES HAVE TO BE ADDRESSED

Asked why there was a need for a political solution after neutralising the LTTE, which he believed did not enjoy support among the Tamil people, Gen.Fonseka said that the people in the North-East had political grievances and these needed to be addressed, if there was to be permanent peace.

"We are convinced that there should be a political solution," he stressed.

Even in the East, which had been cleared of the LTTE almost fully, one could not say that there had been a "victory", Gen.Fonseka argued.

"There can be real victory, only when there is a political solution under which people can lead normal lives," he said.

If the political issues were not addressed, war could go on for another two decades, the General warned.

The Tamil people had a choice, either to follow Prabhakaran and keep on fighting or follow moderate leaders like V.Anandasangaree and Douglas Devananda and return to peace, he said.

The government was thinking of a political settlement, and President Mahinda Rajapaksa had already made an offer, the General said, referring to the devolution proposal made by Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

CURRENT POSITION IN EAST

Gen.Fonseka said that the LTTE now held only a small part of the Toppigala jungle in the East, barely 10 square kilometres out of a total area of 50 sq.km.

"It can be flushed out of this area in a couple of weeks and then the mopping up operations would have to be carried out to completely clear the area, and that may take five to six months," he said.

But the LTTE is dogged. "It has not given up hopes of holding Toppigala," the General noted.

And the cadres are desperadoes. "Every Tiger cadre is a suicide cadre, in as much as he is forced to fight to the last bullet."

In Gen.Fonseka's estimation, there are only about 300 LTTE fighting cadres left in the East and they are holed up in the Toppigala jungle.

ARMY'S AIM IN NORTH

As for the North, comprising the districts in the Wanni region currently controlled by the LTTE and serving as its headquarters, the General said that the Army's basic objective was to secure and strengthen its current defence lines and pre-empt attacks by neutralising the LTTE's gun positions on the other side.

"We want to create conditions in which we are sure that we are not under threat," the General said.

Asked specifically, if the Army was planning to march into the Wanni region as it did under Operation Jayasikurui (Victory Assured ) in 1997-1999, Gen.Fonseka said that it was an "absurd" idea.

"There is no point in entering areas under LTTE's control before it is weakened militarily."

Operation Jayasikurui was the longest, costliest and the most disastrous operation in Sri Lanka's military history.

The Army's units were so thinly spread out in the bid to hold a vast swathe of captured territory, that they became easy prey to marauding LTTE squads in the latter phase of the campaign. The camps, mostly small, fell like nine pins in 1999.

The LTTE is expected to pitch in and fight ferociously in the Wanni. Most of its artillery and mortar pieces were now in the North, Gen. Fonseka said.

"Moreover, the LTTE cannot afford to lose control over an estimated 350,000 people there," he pointed out.

The LTTE has 4,000 fighting cadres in the Northern districts of Mannar, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, the militant group's heartland.

"But they are not its best cadres," Gen.Fonseka said. "If they lose 2,000 cadres, they are finished."

The LTTE has also lost a large number of cadres. 565 were killed in the last four months, including a leader like "Col" Nagulan, the Number 2 in the elite "Charles Anthony Regiment. The Army, in contrast, had lost only 45.

Defending the continuous aerial bombardment of the LTTE- held areas which had created 150,000 to 200,000 refugees in a few months, Gen.Fonseka said that the aerial bombardment took on only military targets and that they were "dead accurate."

He defended the controversial decision to buy MIG 29s, saying that these had 3D radars which could help locate LTTE planes.

The General attributed the fall in suicide bombing incidents in Colombo and Jaffna to the army's "covert" operations, which had broken into the LTTE networks.

NOTHING TO DO WITH KARUNA

Gen.Fonseka maintained that the Armed Forces had little or nothing to do with the LTTE's breakaway group led by Karuna, which is accused of harrassing the people of Batticaloa.

According to the General, the Tamil establishments next to the army's camps in Batticaloa, were "political" offices of the para-military groups like the EPDP and PLOTE.

"I don't know if Karuna has registered his political party," the General said.

According to him, LTTE chief Prabhakaran's son, Charles Anthony, is the head of the outfit's new Air wing, the Tamileelam Air Force. Charles Anthony had apparently done a course in aeronautical engineering.

Gen.Fonseka said that the Ceasefire Agreement signed in February 2002 had helped the LTTE increase its arsenal ten to 15 times. "Their firepower has increased many times."