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SL to add soldiers to prevent Tiger return

Sri Lanka's military said it plans to enlist at least 100,000 more soldiers to head off any resurgence of the separatist Tamil Tigers, who were routed by government forces last week to end a quarter century of civil war.

world Updated: May 26, 2009 08:39 IST

Sri Lanka's military said it plans to enlist at least 100,000 more soldiers to head off any resurgence of the separatist Tamil Tigers, who were routed by government forces last week to end a quarter century of civil war.

The troop buildup comes amid concern that remnants of the rebel group living abroad may try to resurrect it under new leadership, army commander General Sarath Fonseka said in a television interview on Monday.

"There may be people abroad trying to promote a new leader and stage a comeback ," Fonseka told state-run Independent Television Network. "Our strength is 200,000 and it will become 300,000 soon. It will not be easy for them to build up a terror group as they did before."

The army killed all of the rebels' front-line and second-level military leaders - including rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran - and destroyed the Tigers' political and administrative leadership, crippling the group, Fonseka said.

Some 22,000 rebel fighters were killed in the last phase of fighting that started in 2006 and another 9,000 rebel fighters surrendered to the army, Fonseka said. Still, one prominent rebel leader remains at large - Selvarasa Pathmanathan, a smuggling mastermind sought by Interpol.

After killing the rebel leaders, soldiers are now going after a number of suicide bombers believed hiding in capital, Colombo, and other ethnic Sinhalese-majority towns. There are also smaller rebel teams in jungles, Fonseka said.

Fonseka called on more men to enlist in order to keep the rebels from rebuilding.

"We like to see young men joining us more quickly," he said. "We don't mind enlisting even 10,000 a month; we need a lot more soldiers to reach our goal."

Sri Lanka announced on Monday it would hold elections for two key town councils in the war-torn north.

Local Government Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon said the government would start with elections to the Jaffna and Vavuniya town councils. Both those areas lay just outside the de facto state the rebels had controlled in the north.

Jaffna is considered the cultural center of the ethnic Tamil minority on whose behalf the Tamil Tigers fought. Tennakoon said these would be the first local elections in the area since 1998 and called them "the first step toward ensuring the democratic rights of the people in the north."

The elections commission will soon announce the date of the poll. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said he now intends to negotiate a political compromise to address the Tamils' grievances. The recent war victories have boosted the popularity of Rajapaksa's coalition - the United People's Freedom Alliance - which has swept recent elections for provincial assemblies.