Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sri Lanka defence chief calls for ban on Tamil Tigers

COLOMBO (AFP) — Sri Lanka's defence secretary has called for a ban on the Tamil Tigers and said the ongoing military campaign was aimed at destroying the rebels' top leaders, a report said.

Rajapakse, who is President Mahinda Rajapakse's younger brother, said the military had started a campaign to capture rebel-held areas in the island's north, after securing the east last year.

"We have started our thrust from all sides, from Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya and Weli Oya. It is done in a systematic manner. We don't plan to stop," Rajapakse was quoted as saying by the Sinhala-language Lankadeepa newspaper.

He said the military was aiming at eliminating Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and two to three other top leaders.

"If we destroy their leadership, the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) will collapse," the defence secretary said, adding that it was time the government reinstated a ban on the Tigers.

The rebels were banned for a period of five years till mid-2003, when the then government moved to re-start peace talks under a 2002-Norwegian brokered truce.

The government pulled out of the ceasefire this month, leading to the departure of Nordic monitoring teams.

"They (the LTTE) should be banned. Our aim is to destroy the LTTE," he said.

Sri Lankan army chief Sarath Fonseka also told state television that the issue of whether the Tiger chief was alive or dead was "irrelevant as he is as good as dead".

Fonseka said the rebels were not "finished" yet but "weakened".

Fighting meanwhile continued to rage across the north, as Sri Lankan warplanes Saturday bombed what was said to be a nerve centre of the rebels' Sea Tiger unit.

"Fighter pilots have confirmed that the target was accurately hit," a defence ministry statement.

It also said at least 30 Tigers and one soldier were killed in a fresh wave of fighting on Friday, although the pro-rebel website said three government soldiers and two guerrillas died.

Since the start of this month, the Sri Lankan government has said it has killed 666 rebels for the loss of 27 of its soldiers. At least 63 civilians had also been killed, according to defence ministry figures.

Both sides give wildly varying casualty figures which cannot be independently verified as the government bars journalists from visiting frontline areas and rebel-held territory.

Tens of thousands of people have died since the rebels launched a separatist campaign to carve out an independent homeland for minority Tamils in the majority Sinhalese nation in 1972.