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Prabhakaran cornered but could flee: Lanka army chief

Cornered LTTE chief V Prabhakaran has not fled the country yet, but could try to escape through the sea route to reach the Indonesian islands, said Sri Lanka army chief Lt General Sarath Fonseka. Sutirtho Patranobis examines...

world Updated: Jan 27, 2009 00:57 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times

Cornered Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief V. Prabhakaran has not fled the country yet, but could try to escape through the sea route to reach the Indonesian islands. His Sea Tigers (LTTE’s naval wing) remain largely effective.

“Only the Sea Tigers and suicide cadres can help Prabhakaran escape,” Sri Lanka army chief Lt General Sarath Fonseka told HT over telephone a day after capturing Mullaitivu.

Mullaitivu, the last town under Tiger’s control located on the north-eastern coast of Sri Lanka, about 350 km from Colombo, fell to the Lankan army on Sunday.

“It effectively means the LTTE cadres and their leaders are cornered in an area less than 300 sq km,” Fonseka said.

India was not an option for the fugitive LTTE chief. He is an accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case and there is a death warrant, issued against him by the Madras High Court. “He’ll not be able to survive in India under the current circumstances,” Fonseka said, indicating India would not give him refuge in spite of support for the LTTE — banned in India since the 1990s — in Tamil Nadu.

The general said he suspects Prabhakaran will try and make it to the Indonesia islands using the gun-running routes, with the help of his Sea Tigers.

“Sea Tigers are still very effective, even though a large number of their boats have been damaged by aerial bombing. We have also captured two Tiger boats. But they still have effective capabilities,” he said. The Sea Tiger cadres are trained to negotiate their armed boats on high seas and are fiercely loyal to the leader. They have an unknown number of small boats, which can act as suicide bomber vessels.

Fonseka said the LTTE recently received an ammunition shipment. “If ammunition can come (by the sea route), why can’t Prabhakaran escape (by the same route)?” he said.

But where would the LTTE chief go? The army commander said it was likely that Prabhakaran could attempt to escape to the islands of Indonesia.

“The LTTE have networks among the gun-runners and smugglers operating in seas around that area. There is a lot of ship and boat movement on the seas there,” he said.

Fonseka dismissed reports that the LTTE chief has been flown out of the country by the air wing of the LTTE, known as the Tamil Eelam air force.

“I do not believe all that. It is out of the question. We have captured five LTTE airfields. And we are just one kilometer away from the remaining one, which is well within the range of our artillery guns,” he said, adding that no LTTE aircraft movement has been recently spotted over the Mullaitivu skies.

First Published: Jan 27, 2009 00:53 IST