Death toll mounts as Sri Lanka pushes for Tiger teritory
12 February 2007
"LTTE are an organised force with a lot of experience. They
have thousands of fighters. I don't conduct the war looking at deadlines and
time frames," Sri Lanka Army General Sarath Fonseka said in the interview
published Sunday in the Lakbima Sinhalese weekly. "Can a war that has been
going on for more than 25 years be completed by March? But, what I say is --
give us a chance."
COLOMBO (AFP) — Fighting between Sri Lankan troops and Tamil
Tigers intensified in the north of the island Wednesday, officials said, but
there was no sign of major gains by either side despite a rising body count.
The International Red Cross also sounded the alarm over what it described as
"appalling levels" of civilian casualties, saying non-combatants were being
increasingly caught in the crossfire or deliberately targeted.
Government forces stepped up a three-pronged attack on the mini-state run by the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) but were facing stiff resistance from
the ethnic rebels, defence sources said.
After three days of ferocious battles in Mannar district in the northwest and
Weli Oya in the northeast, security forces said they had killed more than 110
For their part, the Tigers said they killed 42 government soldiers and wounded
another 53 in Mannar alone on Tuesday, significantly higher than the casualties
acknowledged by the military.
The army also said two of its soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack
just outside territory controlled by the LTTE, which wants to carve out a
separate Tamil state in the north and east of the ethnic Sinhalese-majority
The latest government military reports bring to 1,198 the number of rebels said
by the defence ministry to have been killed by security forces so far this year,
against the loss of 70 government soldiers and police.
No major territorial gains have been reported, and casualty figures given by the
government or the Tigers cannot be independently verified as journalists and
human rights workers are barred from frontline and rebel-held areas.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of the few
international organisations with access to the area, did however confirm
mounting civilian casualties -- with 180 civilians killed and 270 wounded since
the start of the year.
"The number of civilians affected by the violence throughout the country, either
by being directly targeted or as bystanders has reached appalling levels," said
Toon Vandenhove, the head of the ICRC's delegation in Colombo.
The government has blamed the Tamil Tigers for a string of bomb attacks in the
capital and elsewhere in recent weeks, while the guerrillas have also accused
the military of targeting Tamil civilians in areas under their control.
Violence on the tropical island has surged since the Sri Lankan government
formally pulled out of truce with the rebels that had produced a drop in
violence between 2002 and late 2005.
Sri Lanka's top army general Sarath Fonseka declared over the weekend that a
campaign to capture the rebel-held north was proceeding according to plan, but
refused to give a timetable for defeating the LTTE.
"They are an organised force with a lot of experience. They have thousands of
fighters. I don't conduct the war looking at deadlines and time frames," Fonseka
said in the interview published Sunday in the Lakbima Sinhalese weekly.
"Can a war that has been going on for more than 25 years be completed by March?
But, what I say is -- give us a chance."
The military estimates the Tigers' strength at anything between 3,000 and 5,000.
The defence authorities announced at the beginning of the year that they would
be able to wipe out the rebels within six months.