‘Our main concern is the civilians’
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara
Excerpts of an interview with Army Spokesman
Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara on the status of the
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
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
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
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.