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‘Our main concern is the civilians’

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara

Excerpts of an interview with Army Spokesman
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara on the status of the war…

By Raisa Wickrematunge

Q:  Since January this year, what exactly are the casualty figures for this war?

A: It is not possible to give exact numbers. So far we haven’t given figures to the media. We have suffered casualties but they are minimal when compared to those suffered by the LTTE.

Q: How successful has the current military campaign been?

A: Very successful. The military has been able to move fast and corner the LTTE in a 4.5 km stretch known as the ‘No-fire Zone.’

Q: What were the military strategies adopted this time that helped win this war?  How different were they from those previously planned and executed?

A: This is a different kind of operation. There are LTTE cadres mingling with the civilians, so it is not possible to engage in combat using air weaponry even though we can locate where these cadres are. We have cleared the area north of Valayamada, and over 113,000 people have been rescued. We are trying to rescue the rest of these civilians, via group operations.

Special Forces and the army are working to clear the area, the speed of this operation depends on how fast they would be able to clear the beach, bunds and mines which the LTTE have planted in the area. Progress is slow because we want to minimise our casualties as well as save civilian lives.

Q: This is largely perceived to have been a “war without witnesses.”  Why was the media barred from covering this war?

A: We have not barred the media. We have allowed both local and foreign media up to the liberated areas. On May 2 for instance we allowed 39 journalists into government controlled areas and on April 25, fifty journalists were also granted access. We will give access where possible, but not where military confrontation is taking place, as we cannot ensure the journalists’ safety and the safety of the security forces that protect them.

It would be safer for journalists to refer to figures and information given on our website. Whoever has made a request to move into a certain area, depending on the situation, we have not barred people from coming to this area.

Q: That maybe so to a certain degree.  Having said that, this war could be perceived as one of the biggest success stories for the military and the government in the last two decades. Yet large sections of the media were and continue to be isolated as well as branded as terrorists and traitors by the Ministry of Defence. Why?

A: As military spokesperson I have not done anything of that nature. We have been fighting this war for a long time. We want to see the threat of terrorism removed, so the country can develop. Our main aim is to safeguard the country. Our officers have recovered such a large amount of equipment belonging to the LTTE and if these had been used there might not have been a Sri Lanka left for our people.

Now that we have gained control and the country is safe, anyone publishing information for the terrorists, and tarnishing the army’s image should think twice before requesting to visit the combat zones. We don’t want to spend money on such organisations and get a bad name from such agencies.

Q: What measures have the security forces taken to secure the lives of civilians in the north?

A: When it comes to the north, the situation in Jaffna and other liberated areas is fairly peaceful. The remaining civilians are in welfare camps. The army is taking precautions, and police protection is available. From the time the civilians arrive in the army controlled areas to the time they are handed over to the camps, the army takes care of their basic needs, such as provision of food, water supply and so on.

After the civilians are handed over to the camps, the government takes over caring for the civilians. Police are providing security for the outer areas of the camps and ensuring that civilians are protected while moving to the camps.

Q: How deeply has the LTTE infiltrated suicide bombers and other cadres into the IDP camps?

A: There may be cadres in the camps. Of course we have about 4000 self confessed LTTE cadres, who we have taken into rehabilitation, based on judgment by the courts. It is possible these cadres are mingling with civilians.

Q: How difficult is it going to be for the military to counter future LTTE attacks on ‘soft’ targets?

A: In areas other than those liberated, police and security forces are taking precautions and various measures to minimise LTTE attacks. We have succeeded in overpowering the LTTE to a large extent, and will continue our attempts. However we cannot rule out the possibility that the LTTE will wait and go for a target. Compared to the past, though, LTTE action has been minimised.

Q: How real is the threat that the LTTE will continue as a guerilla outfit and would continue to strike in the south with renewed operations?

A: Now that we have liberated large areas, it will not be possible for the LTTE to get hold of explosives and other weaponry to fight back. However mines, bombings and other isolated incidents are possible, even in the south. We have taken several precautionary measures in case this happens.

Q: It has been said that the LTTE has considerable financial and other support overseas. How feasible is it that this will continue, and could this contribute to a regrouping by the LTTE?

A: It’s not possible for the LTTE to regroup and come back like they have earlier. However, LTTE supporters abroad are still collecting money, and the financial distribution network within the LTTE is still working. We would like to first work at eliminating the leaders and prominent people before working on stopping this inside distribution network.

Q: How successful have you been to that end?

A: In Puthukkudiyiruppu we caught about 10 LTTE leaders. Two LTTE cadres also surrendered. The LTTE is left with only a few second rung leaders. We are waiting for the civilians in the ‘no fire zone’ to escape before we will be able to move in and attack the rest of the cadres remaining there.



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