|Sri Lanka steels for bloodier battles as monsoon rains set in|
|Monday, 08 September 2008|
by Amal Jayasinghe COLOMBO (AFP) -
Sri Lankan troops have moved closer to dismantling the Tamil Tigers' de facto state after months of heavy clashes, but the battles ahead could be even bloodier, officials and analysts say. Monsoon rains expected to intensify in the coming weeks could bog down tanks and make artillery less effective in soggy terrain, forcing both sides to engage in close combat, according to military experts.Sri Lanka has poured a record 1.5 billion dollars this year into battling the rebels, who are fighting for a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, with the aim of crushing the insurgency by the middle of next year.
The number of rebels killed since January has risen to 6,395, according to government figures. The military says 616 soldiers have died in the same period in a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1972.Security forces announced last week they were 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) south of their objective -- capturing the rebel political capital of Kilinochchi in the north. But fighting has intensified as the rebels put up stiff resistance.Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse and the key figure guiding the battle against the rebels, said security forces were confident of progress.
"The army commander (Lieutenant general Sarath Fonseka) said it is possible to go to Kilinochchi by December," Rajapakse told the Sinhalese Language Sunday Divaina newspaper.Ranil Wijayapala, defence expert for the state-run Daily News, said troops suffered a "temporary setback" last week, but were on course to dismantle the mini state of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).The rebels have remained silent about the military claims, but tacitly admitted they had lost ground to advancing troops along several fronts in the vast northern Wanni region, parts of which are under their control.Writing his weekly analysis, Wijayapala said clashes could get intense as troops move closer to the heart of Kilinochchi and Mullaittivu, a north-eastern coastal area where the Tigers are known to have major military installations.Last week, the military took the rebel town of Mallavi, but attempts at further advances were met with heavy resistance, according to reports by both sides.
"Domination of the well-known Mallavi town... marked one more decisive and impressive phase of the 'war for peace,'" the defence ministry said in a statement.The guerrillas hit back elsewhere, using two light aircraft to bomb a government naval facility in the northeast, killing four people and wounding 10, according to defence officials.Retired army brigadier general Vipul Boteju said the military had the upper hand in the latest fighting, but they should move into Kilinochchi before monsoon rains get worse.Kilinochchi was under government control in late 1999 when the Tigers launched a successful fightback.
Land captured by security forces after 19 months was lost in five days following ferocious counterattacks.Boteju said the military appeared to be adopting better tactics this time to avoid history repeating itself.However, another analyst who declined to be named said government forces needed more men to hold the territories being captured and that guarding the gains was becoming a challenge.
He said the Tigers still had the ability to stage their trademark suicide attacks. A string of bombings targeting public transport last month was blamed on the Tigers.
(Courtesy : Yahoo )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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