|Military moving in on Tamil capital, Sri Lankan officials say|
|Thursday, 28 August 2008|
The Globe and Mail
COLOMBO -- For the first time in more than a decade, Sri Lankan government forces are deep inside the Tamil Tigers' northern stronghold and within striking distance of the Tamil capital, according to military officials who insist an end to one of Asia's deadliest civil wars nears by the day. Some observers say it's still too soon to talk of the end of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's 25-year armed struggle for a Tamil state. But there's no dispute that the latest military offensive has unprecedented momentum thanks to an international crackdown on the Tigers' fundraising and smuggling networks and high-level defections that have undermined support for its iron-willed leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.
Since January, when it scrapped a Norway-brokered ceasefire and vowed to crush the Tigers by the end of the year, the government has poured $1.5-billion into an all-out, multiple front offensive. About 6,000 rebels have been killed and their last stronghold in the island's northern Wanni region reduced by nearly 75 per cent, according to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence. Front lines remained static for months until June, when forces finally punched through rebel lines to seize the strategic Mannar Peninsula.
On July 16, a major naval base was overrun, followed by four more key bases. The military says some advance units are now within artillery range of Kilinochchi, the Tigers' de facto capital and nerve centre, where Mr. Prabhakaran is believed to operate from an underground complex. Fierce clashes are expected there, as hundreds of the Tigers' elite fighters are thought to have dug in awaiting a final showdown. After taking back the Jaffna Peninsula, the northernmost part of the island, in 1995, the army finally consolidated an advantage over the Tigers last March when the LTTE's eastern commander, Colonel Karuna Amman, broke away and took 6,000 loyal cadres with him. According to Col. Karuna, who says he left the Tigers due to Mr. Prabhakaran's repeated failure to pursue a political solution at critical moments, this slashed the Tigers' fighting strength by 60 per cent.
Four months later, the LTTE was ousted from the east. A July, 2007, report by Jane's Intelligence Review said that at their peak, the Tigers have raised as much as $300-million (U.S.) a year – 90 per cent from abroad – making it the second-highest budget among separatist groups after Colombia's FARC. But a worldwide dragnet on fundraising operations and weapons procurement has cramped the Tigers, which are listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and Canada. They have been credited with pioneering the use of suicide bombers, and have been called the “most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world” by the FBI. Dozens of LTTE financiers and arms smugglers have been arrested by authorities in the United States, Canada, Europe and India.
One Toronto-based non-profit group, the World Tamil Movement, wired more than $3-million (U.S.) to overseas bank accounts linked to the Tigers before its operations were shut down by the Canadian government in June for alleged terrorist financing, according to an RCMP report released last week. A joint India-Sri Lanka naval blockade of the Palk Strait waterway that separates the two countries has further diminished the inflow of desperately needed arms, provisions and materiel to the Tigers. Given the array of setbacks, defence officials determined they had a singular opportunity to crush the Tigers as a standing fighting force by the end of this year.
However, some defence analysts say the current offensive has yet to encounter the full weight of the LTTE and that boasts of imminent victory are premature. The LTTE “must have something up their sleeve,” said one Colombo-based observer who asked not to be named, noting that the rebels still have hundreds of hardened fighters and possibly chemical weapons for a counterattack. “They are very crafty and have given up territory in the past to draw the army in and then strike back hard.” And even if the LTTE is soon broken as a conventional fighting force, there is consensus that it could regroup in remote jungle areas, as it has done in the past, to wage a protracted guerrilla war. This would mean a greater reliance on suicide and hit-and-run attacks to “bomb themselves back onto the agenda,” according to Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a think tank in Colombo. Security forces in the Sri Lankan capital remain on high alert.
Armed guards patrol streets littered with barricades and a gauntlet of checkpoints. Despite the dogged military effort, Dr. Saravanamuttu said, unrest will not cease until the economic and political deprivations that fuel Tamil discontent are addressed in earnest.
“The LTTE has always played for the long haul,” he said. “The only thing that can bring about a conclusion to the bloodshed is a political solution that cuts the ground from under their feet.”
(Courtesy : pulitzercenter.org )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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