|A matter of time for total victory for the Security Forces –Defence Secretary|
|Friday, 12 September 2008|
Considering the arms and ammunition the LTTE have collected for the past 25 years, we have to fight hard during the next few months, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa says, assessing the capabilities of the LTTE at a time security Forces have come to the doorstep of Kilinochchi. “That is what people have to expect in the coming months”, he says in an interview with the Daily News on the eve of the Air Force shot down one LTTE lighter aircraft over Mullaitivu.
He says the SLAF should be commended for this achievement as it is a difficult task to shoot down a low flying aircraft as the state of the art equipment that are available in the world are meant to shot down sophisticated aircraft.
He still maintains the position that the LTTE should be banned and there should not be an organization by the name LTTE. “Its leader had killed one of our Presidents, Defence Minister, Foreign Minister, Indian Prime Minister, Navy Commander, so many Ministers and so many Tamil leaders. So this type of organization should have been banned long time before and there is no reason why we should not ban. I don’t see any logic in that”, he says commenting on the LTTE. The Defence Secretary says that the Government asked the aid workers to leave Kilinochchi as the Government cannot guarantee their security and does not want unnecessary problems by allowing them to operate there.
Commenting on the criticism on his alleged “anti-media” stance, the Defence Secretary says that media freedom and all these issues are only nice words and people should look at the practical side of the war. “We are determined to finish the war. So I will criticize anybody who is working against the war. That is why I have been critical of some media but not critical of all the media. It was proven that I was correct”, he says. Following is the full interview the Daily News had with the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa:
Q: Could you explain in brief what Security Forces could achieve after two years of fighting with the LTTE?
The entire country is aware what we have achieved with the liberation of the Eastern province. What we have achieved in the Wanni is going according to the plans of the Army Commander. So far, we have done more than what the Army Commander was planning to achieve in the Wanni. That is land wise. But, the major thing is that when we started the operation, our aim was to first weaken the LTTE by destroying their assets. That was our aim. Not to just march forward and gain territory. That is why we took a longer period at the beginning. That is the period of attrition. By confronting the LTTE we inflicted many casualties to the LTTE and it is clear now when we move forward you can see the cemeteries and the posters put up by the LTTE on death notices. Any one can observe there had been a lot of casualties. At the same time, we took lot of air targets and we were able to destroy their bases and equipment. This way, in the first few months, our aim was to destroy them and weaken them. You could have seen, we had huge successes and a rapid advance. That was because we have weakened them and there were less confrontations when it comes to that level. Without stagnating at the same place, we moved in quick succession. We captured Vedithalthivu, Illuppakadavai, Vellankulam in the coastal belt and most important towns like Thunukkai and Mallavi, later. Now we have reached Nachchikuda. Up to this place, we moved very quickly. What the Army has achieved is very clear after moving forward into their territory on several fronts. It is not only in one place that we are confronting the LTTE. We have Task Force I in the Mannar side, we have 57 Division in the centre, then we have Task Force II towards the A-9 and 59 Division in Weli Oya. Then we have two offensive Divisions in Muhamalai. We are putting pressure on the LTTE on all fronts. The LTTE has never faced this type of pressure from all these fronts. Actually, we have not still committed our full strength in the offensives. In all areas, we have the capability to put some more Divisions into the offensive but we have not committed that strength so far.
Defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
Q: What are the achievements from the Navy and the Air Force operations?
The Navy has performed a lot. We destroyed 10 LTTE ships and trawlers smuggling weapons into the uncleared area. That was a major success and a big blow to the LTTE. For the first time, they went to deep seas far away from the shores and destroyed the LTTE floating warehouses. The other thing is changing the tactics in the sea with the introduction of a small boats concept through a Special Boat Squadron and the Rapid Action Boat Squadron. It was a great success. We have weakened the Sea Tiger capability to a great extent. And also by taking Silavathura and Vedithalthivu and most of the Western coast, we have restricted the areas they could go to the sea, and also in some parts, in the Eastern coast. They are confined to a small area on the Western coast. So their sea access is very limited. The Air Force is also getting their targets very accurately. Their bombing is very precise. Because of that, we were able to inflict a lot of damage to LTTE training camps, headquarters, leaders, their ammo dumps and their defenses. The Air Force has done a marvelous job.
Q: Last week Security Forces faced stiff resistance from the LTTE and they suffered a relatively higher number of casualties. How can you explain this situation?
Now we are getting closer to Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. That is their main concentration and they will try to fight more and more using all their assets, artillery and mortars, and they will try to put their cadres and recruit more and more civilians forcefully. Another thing they have done was the building of a huge bund with a ditch from East to West. They have done this to stop the advance of our troops. That is where weeks back we got a few casualties by trying to confront with the LTTE there. We have come across such bunds earlier also but we were able to negotiate with them. We will overcome this barrier and move forward. For this we have to balance all the fronts to move forward. This line, we have gone beyond the normal plan and we reached the door step of Kilinochchi.
Q: There is a perception that the Security Forces cannot continue the war due to the massive commitment to hold the areas they have captured in the East and in the Wanni?
Once we took over the Ministry of Defence, we anticipated the requirement of absorption of a lot of troops to the Security Forces. Therefore, we increased the strength of the military by 50,000 that is about 30 per cent of the total. We increased the number of home guards by 20,000. It is a huge increase. We anticipated and we predicted that requirement. We conducted an aggressive recruitment campaign with a lot of advertisement motivation. We have a very good response from the people and we have no problem of recruitment to the Security Forces. And the training programme we planned far ahead of time. Therefore, we don’t have to abandon the places we captured earlier. That was the problem we had earlier. Once you clear the East, to clear Wanni you have to get the troops from the East. Here we have not taken a single person from the Jaffna peninsula. We have the full commitment there. We are dominating the Jaffna peninsula very strongly. In fact we have increased the battalion strength there. We have increased, not decreased the strength of Security Forces personnel in the East. This includes STF, Police, Home Guards and the military. We are holding in strength to give the necessary security requirement in the East. We have committed a lot of troops even in Yala where a small group is creating problem. That is because we planned from the beginning. So we have no problem holding the ground.
Q: Successive Governments have engaged in this war for the past two and half decades. But they could not achieve this much of success. What is the prime reason behind these successes?
Approaching the whole problem professionally held to achieve these successes. We have very capable commanders who are very committed. At the same time, they have good experience and knowledge. Because all three commanders from the very beginning have faced counter terrorist operations from their younger days. And also all of them have been involved in all major offensive operations conducted for the last 25 years. So they have the knowledge and they are able to read the battle very well and assess the situation very well. They have the full authority and the command power. They know the capability of the officers involved in the battle. This way we have achieved results.
Q: What is your assessment on the LTTE capabilities at present? Are they weak or are they strong?
We have weakened them to a great extent. But they will try to do everything to delay the troops advance and inflict casualties to the troops. The other point is that, during peacetime, they have acquired a fair amount of artillery and mortar. So they will try to inflict casualties to us. They will try to do everything to delay our advance into Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. A lot of LTTE cadres have been killed and lots of lower level cadres have been killed. That is why they have put small boys and girls to the front. That is why we say they have been weakened. They can’t face a superior military. They can do what they used to do - sabotage terrorist activities, killing civilians, exploding bombs and suicide attacks. But they cannot change the military scenario by doing things like that.
Q: A considerable number of civilians have been forcibly kept by the LTTE in the Wanni. What would be the fate of these civilians once fighting escalates there?
Gradually, when we put pressure they will come out, as you can remember in Sampur we knew that they were having their so called Mahaveer families. From Sampur, they came to Eethalampattu and then moved into Vakarai. In Vakarai we put pressure from all directions. They came out from that area and the passage was restricted. That happened in Thoppigala. Similarly, they will not be able to keep the civilians when troops advance gradually into their territory. The civilians will not listen. We have heard certain instances where civilians have reacted against the LTTE when they have tried to recruit people by force. So the LTTE will not be able to keep them forcefully. When the time comes, they will come out of these places in large masses to Vavuniya. Then they will not be able to stop the civilians. We are ready for this situation because this is not a new thing. It happened in the Eastern province. In the East, around 170,000 people were displaced. We handled that effectively and we have resettled them. This happened in 1996 when Riviresa operation was launched to liberate Jaffna. There were 400,000 people there and they had to come out. Ultimately, they were settled and there is no problem at all. Therefore, this is not a new thing. We have experienced such situations. We will be able to tackle this problem effectively.
Q: The Government has issued a fresh announcement asking the aid workers to leave Wanni. What made the Government to make such a request? What is the background behind this request?
There are two categories. One is NGOs local and international. The other group is the United Nations. The NGOs and INGOs were allowed to be there to do various development work. They have signed agreements with various line Ministries and they were doing various development work. That was what they were supposed to do. But, now there is no way that they can do any development work. So there is no meaning for them to be there. That is one reason the Government has asked them to come out of uncleared areas.
The second reason is, it is not secure for them to be there. We can’t give guarantee to their security. Forces are advancing gradually into Kilinochchi. So there is no way we can guarantee their security. Therefore, we have advised them to come to a safer area.
Then we have this case of Norwegian People’s Aid where the LTTE took control of all the assets belonging to them. They couldn’t do anything to control that. Later, when we came out with that, they accepted that they had done a mistake and they apologized for that. Anyway, they had to come out leaving all their assets there. So you could see, it was a good example that the LTTE had done this to Norwegian People’s Aid. I don’t understand why we should allow all the other NGOs to face this situation. I don’t know whether the LTTE had already taken their assets. This is another reason why we have requested them to come out. The other point is we have warned them that they can’t officially stay there and they must withdraw with their assets out of Kilinochchi and announce that they have no more operations going on there. We don’t want them to later face a situation like in Muttur where aid workers got killed. Security Forces had to face unnecessary commissions and inquiries. We don’t want such a thing to happen again. So we have clearly told them that we can’t guarantee their security and officially, we want them to cease all their operations and come out of that place so that they can announce that there are no more members there in Kilinochchi because, we don’t want to face unnecessary situations. We are not responsible for anything after that. So these are the reasons why we have decided to call INGOs and NGOs to come out of Kilinochchi. When you take the UN, again security is the first concern. We are responsible for their security. But, we can’t guarantee their security any longer because of the exchange of artillery and mortars on the battlefront. As you know the LTTE used to erect their camps close to UN offices as a safety measure. We don’t want any of the UN installations to get damaged when we engage these LTTE installations with indirect fire. Security is the main concern of ours. So we have asked them to pull back to a safer place in Vavuniya and operate from Vavuniya. So there are no restrictions for their operations. Right now the only operation they can do is the humanitarian, so they can conduct their operations in Vavuniya and we have told them to establish their food warehouses in Vavuniya. From there, they can distribute the food to GA’s.
Q: Is there any mechanism available to send essential food items to the Wanni civilians once the UN withdraws from the area?
The GAs will look after the IDPs. That is the case even now, even though these UN organisations are there, actually the food distribution and other relevant issues are done through Government Agents. That process can continue. If you can remember in Vakarai, there were INGOs, NGOs or UN organisations in Vakarai. There is only one AGA and through the Government Agent in Batticaloa, we provided food to the civilians in Vakarai. When there was a shortage food and other essential items, we organized 100 lorries of food to Vakarai. Of course we managed to send 89 of those 100 lorries. Then the LTTE started firing mortars and we had to stop the balance. But we sent these lorries. Later on, when we liberated Vakarai and went into Vakarai, we saw how the LTTE used the food to build their bunkers, so enough food was there in the area. Similarly we can send food for these people. Then the UN will operate from Vavuniya.
Q: Will this affect the presence of the ICRC also, especially in Omanthai entry exit point?
Yes, of course, we have told them to move out in stages. But that will not affect their presence in Omanthai. The Omanthai entry exit point will be kept open for the civilian movements. We have given the civilians an area for them to withdraw or to hold back from Kilinochchi to Puthukuduiruppu, and later, from Puthukuduiruppu to Oddusudan. From Oddusudan, they can move into Vavuniya. That is the route that we would like the civilians to take.
Q: You maintained the position that Ceasefire should be abrogated and the LTTE should be banned. The Ceasefire has already been abrogated and what about the banning of the LTTE?
There was no Ceasefire so there was no reason to have a Ceasefire. It has already been abrogated. It was an unnecessary one. I maintained the position that it should be abrogated. Similarly, the LTTE is a terrorist organization and it must be destroyed. It must be hundred per cent destroyed. Most countries have banned the LTTE as a terrorist organization. It has killed so many innocent people. It has destroyed innocent lives. Its leader had killed one of our Presidents, Defence Minister, Foreign Minister, Indian Prime Minister, Navy Commander, so many Ministers and so many Tamil leaders. So this type of organization should have been banned a long time before and there is no reason why we should not ban. I don’t see any logic in that. We should destroy this organization why we should not ban it.
Q: The Sri Lanka Air Force says that they were able to destroy one LTTE light aircraft over Mullaitivu on Tuesday. But public opinion is that they had taken long period destroy an LTTE aircraft?
We must be grateful to the SLAF, even after a long time, for having got one aircraft. Actually, when the first flight came, and even when we started in 2005, there was not a single weapon or any system to counter an air threat. From the very beginning, we have to start. One must understand whatever the aircraft and defence systems available in the world, they are for highly sophisticated systems to face air threat. But here we get a low flying small aircraft which is very difficult to detect even from ground. It is there in the air only for very few seconds. So we have got advice from different countries. Their opinion was that it was a very difficult task to target this type of aircraft. But we tried and developed a system with all the assets. We developed the system now we see that at the end it was a success. The more important thing you have to remember is that by dropping these two bombs they will never be able to change the military balance or make any impact on the military situation. It was just a method used by the LTTE for their propaganda, to boost up their Diaspora and boost their fund raising campaigns. Every time they drop very crude locally made bombs, of course, many times their targets were off. So it was sort of a psychological thing. For the past one and half years, they came five or six times. Imagine for the past two years we have done over thousand air raids and dropped bombs of 500 Kg, 1,000 Kg and 250 bombs. We have dropped hundreds of this type of bombs. If we are so concerned about the LTTE aircraft and bombing, you can compare how LTTE is concerned about our air capability. But at the end, the Air Force gave us assurance somehow they will shoot down their aircraft. At the end, they have shot down one aircraft.
Q: They have attempted to destroy the radar system of the SLAF in Vavuniya on Tuesday. What is the situation there?
Probably, they may have targeted the radar system. But they have not come closer to the radars.
Q: You have set a time frame to reach Kilinochchi. Is this realistic in the present context?
What I say is the time plan of the commanders. The Commanders do the military assessment; they are the people who know how forces are moving. According to the Army Commander, it was the time line to reach Kilinochchi. That is what I have told. Not only Kilinochchi, we have to go beyond that, so falling Kilinochchi will be a sort of break down for the LTTE. Above that, it will be a matter of time. But considering the arms and ammunition they have collected for the past 25 years, we have to expect to fight hard during the next few months. That is what people have to expect in the coming months.
Q: You have been criticized for taking anti media stance. Is there any specific reason for you to take anti media stance?What I said was not only to media. What I said was, not to demoralize the Forces by working against the Forces and working against the country. Because, this is not a private war or something. Our Forces, we are fighting for the country, to save the country from terrorism, from the LTTE. Anybody who loves the country has to support the Security Forces. Anybody who is not supporting the Forces, they are in the other side, because there are only two sides, LTTE and the Security Forces. That is the reason I have been critical of the people who are not supporting the Security Forces. What I have always said is that, it is not the weapon, it is the man behind the weapon that matters. If you take this man and give him a correct mission, correct leadership and proper training, you can prepare him to face any situation. More than anything else, if you can motivate him that is what you need to give to the war. This is why I have always said that nobody should do anything to demoralize this man. If you want to win this war, you have to energize, motivate, activate the man behind the weapon. That is the soldier. This is why I am always against anybody who writes and do anything to demoralize the Security Forces. Media Freedom and all these things are only nice words. We have to see the practical side of this. We have been fighting this menace for the 25 to 30 years. We are determined to finish this. So I will criticize anybody who is working against the war. That is why I have been critical of some media but not critical of all the media. It was proven that I was correct.
I have been critical in most of the cases. It was not anything to do with me personally. All these were what they have written against the war which was not correct. Now you can go through all these defence analysts you can see they were all wrong. That is why I was criticizing them at that time.
(Courtesy : Daily News )
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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