INTERNATIONAL

Colombo claims a string of victories

B. Muralidhar Reddy

Colombo: The Sri Lankan military on Sunday claimed a “string of victories” against the LTTE in the Visuamadu area and said troops had captured a well-fortified LTTE camp located south of Piramanthalkulam.

Visuamadu and Puthukkuudiyiruppu are the two remaining settlements of the Tigers in the Mullathivu district. The government believes that an estimated 1.2 lakh civilians are trapped there. The United Nations and international agencies estimate the numbers to be above two lakh.

Conceding that the troops were marching towards Puthukkudiyiruppu, pro-LTTE TamilNet claimed that the LTTE forces on Sunday launched a pre-emptive strike on Army units that were preparing for an “all out assault”.

“The SLA has suffered heavy casualties, initial reports from Wanni said. At least three Main Battle Tanks of the SLA were destroyed, LTTE officials have told media,” it said.

“Pitched battle”

The Defence Ministry, however, said troops captured the LTTE camp beating off Tiger cadre in a pitched battle. It said the troops found nine bodies of LTTE cadre with various weapons and a fully air-conditioned underground bunker in the camp premises.

It also said infantrymen moving towards the Challai lagoon captured an LTTE camp located in the jungle east of Puliyampokkanal. “Troops believe that the camp was used by the Black Tigers or the band of suicide bombers.”

In the general area Kariyakvayal south, the Army claimed heavy damages to the LTTE in an encounter. “Counter terrorist operations are being continued with the terrorists fast withdrawing towards Challai,” it said.

The Ministry said with the Army fast eliminating LTTE barricades in Mullathivu, increasing numbers of civilians were able to escape the LTTE “human shield”.

“Safe passage”

It claimed that on Saturday 195 civilians found safe passages to government-controlled areas. However, TamilNet maintained that at the end of the 48-hour ultimatum served on the LTTE by the Sri Lankan President to give safe passage to civilians, only 26 citizens had crossed over to government-controlled territory.

The Navy said its boats deployed in Mullathivu coastal waters rescued 43 civilians belonging to 11 families. It said it had a special boat deployment with ready medical teams and humanitarian aid in the north-eastern seas to rescue civilians fleeing LTTE areas.

The Military said on Sunday 116 civilians, including 51 women and 65 men, arrived at the Omanthai entry-exit point during the course of the day. “In Mullathivu, 152 civilians sought refuge with the soldiers of 57 and 58 Divisions.”

“Restrictions”

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Sunday said that to ensure that the safe zone was not bombed, the Sri Lankan army was facing difficulties in operational planning.

“We are facing restrictions in the use of indirect fire, that is artillery and air attacks in areas with civilians. Otherwise, we could have bombed this area and walked into the rest within one day. Now we have to work harder, using only direct ground fire. It’s more risky and we are prone to get more casualties from our side. Despite those difficulties, we are moving one kilometre daily in some areas and more than that in others.”

He was quoted as saying the military understood the terrain and had a ground plan. “We don’t need to bomb civilians. The LTTE cannot survive in a small square. We are gradually closing in on them and it won’t matter afterwards whether they are civilians or Tigers. We can physically search them.”

Media warned

Elsewhere, he accused a section of the international media and the diplomatic community of acting irresponsibly and warned that they would be “chased out” of the island nation if they attempted to give the LTTE a second breath of life.

“They will be chased away [if they try] to give a second wind to the LTTE terrorists at a time the security forces, at heavy cost, are dealing them the final death blow,” he said.

He accused CNN, Al-Jazeera and specially the BBC of trying to sensationalise civilian hardships by telecasting video clips from LTTE websites and charged the envoys of Germany and Sweden with trying to create panic on the humanitarian crisis front.



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