Mines caused most casualties

COLOMBO, APRIL 29. Improvised land mines planted by the LTTE on the route of the military advance were the main reason for the massive numbers of wounded soldiers in last week's failed offensive by the security forces, the Jaffna commander, Major- General Anton Wijendra has said.

At least 210 soldiers were killed in the operation, while more than 1,000 were wounded, over 200 of them seriously. The high casualties forced the military to call off its advance and pull back its troops on Saturday morning, four days after it was launched. The LTTE has admitted to losing 75 cadres, including women.

The general, quoted by the Sunday Times today, said troops began the advance on lanes that had been cleared of mines, but when the LTTE began firing artillery and mortars, the soldiers scattered to take cover, in the process straying into heavily packed minefields.

He defended the launching of the operation on the ground that the security forces had pre-empted a major assault by the LTTE the very next day, and said it had recently acquired 62 multi- barrelled rocket launchers along with other military hardware.

Newspapers reported today that the offensive was carried out by two divisions, one attempting to advance south towards Pallai from Eluthumadduval, and the other from Nagarkovil, both military forward positions on the neck of the peninsula but separated by about four km. That left a gap in the middle, where the LTTE positioned itself strategically and bombarded both flanks with artillery and mortar.

While the Government troops managed to advance initially, they could not sustain it against the barrage of LTTE fire, and were ordered to pull back.

The Army has said the LTTE's firepower proved what it had been saying all along, that the rebels were re-arming themselves through a four-month unilateral truce.

That raises the question why the security forces waited all these days to launch the offensive, especially as the Government was not bound by a cease-fire.

The renewed fighting on the peninsula could delay peace talks between the Government and the LTTE, but it is not yet seen as derailing the process for commencing negotiations which is being facilitated by the Norwegian government.

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