High-pitch battles predicted for Sri Lanka

April 26th, 2008 - 11:59 am ICT by admin  

By P. Karunakharan
Colombo, April 26 (IANS) Sri Lanka’s unending war is all set to intensify. After the worst fighting in the northern Jaffna peninsula since President Mahinda Rajapaksa took power in November 2005 left more than 150 fighters dead, military experts say more intense battles are in the offing.

Hundreds were also wounded in the Wednesday confrontation when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), one of the world’s most powerful insurgent groups, put up fierce resistance to advancing Sri Lankan troops.

The government said that over 100 LTTE guerrillas, including 15 senior cadres, and 43 soldiers were killed in the battles that lasted 11 hours in the narrow as well as open land stretches in the Muhamalai and Kilali areas of Jaffna.

The LTTE said it lost only 16 cadres and claimed it killed over 100 soldiers and wounded more than 400. It also claimed capturing a large amount of weaponry from the military.

Military experts view the Wednesday battle as a carbon copy of the October 2006 fighting when a major onslaught by government troops was pushed back by an LTTE counter attack, leaving hundreds dead.

The only difference is that the LTTE, which lost its former strongholds in the eastern districts of Trincomalee, Amparai and Batticaloa to the military in July 2007, fought the latest battle with its back to the wall.

The military is determined to seize LTTE areas in the island’s north.

“Not just battles, major confrontations in the future cannot be ruled out,” said Iqbal Athas, Sri Lanka’s leading military analyst.

Asked if the LTTE could go on the offensive, Athas said: “I do not think so because in Muhamalai they played a defensive role. Anyway, one cannot predict what the future holds.”

Military analyst Namal Perera said the current trend in the northern battlefront was a clear indication that both the government and the LTTE were well prepared for a prolonged war.

“The situation will aggravate and escalate further in the weeks and months to come,” Perera said.

Sri Lanka’s defence spokesman and Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said Thursday that the Wednesday fighting was “neither a debacle nor a setback” and vowed that the government would go ahead with its strategy “to liberate Wanni and wipe out terrorism by the end of the year”.

Wanni is the name of the area the LTTE controls in the north.

The minister dismissed the notion that heads may roll following the loss of a large number of soldiers. “There is no such intent to hold anyone responsible,” Rambukwella said.

An Asian diplomat who closely monitors the war said that despite the ups and downs in fighting, the parties “are not going to come down from their current intransigent positions.

“The government will not give up its campaign and the LTTE will be forced to continue the defensive war. But it is an open secret that the rebels might go for a couple of offensive attacks on select targets to escape the pressure on them,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Supporting the government’s view, former Navy chief Daya Sandagiri said: “We cannot relax. This campaign has to be continued at any cost to mount pressure on the LTTE.”

He also dismissed the theory that heavy casualties could put pressure on the government. “The LTTE has been largely weakened, but they are not showing they are weakened,” Sandagiri said.

About 70,000 people have died in the bloody Tamil separatist campaign in Sri Lanka’s northeast since 1983.

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