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Lanka's victory hopes not around the corner: WSJ

January 20, 2009 17:04 IST

The Sri Lankan army's hopes to crush Tamil Tigers and end Asia's longest running civil war are still not around the corner, a media report said.

'Peace still will not be easy or, despite recent good news, immediate. The Tigers may still be able to carry out some terror attacks, though they no longer pose a wide-scale threat. And Colombo faces questions about its commitment to a permanent political settlement,' a Wall Street Journal report said.

Forces -- which have surrounded a shrinking number of Tamil Tiger rebels in the northeastern part of the country -- have shocked who thought this conflict, which has political origins, the report said.

'Devolution of power to the provinces has long been floated as the best political fix,' the report said.

Although the end of a conventional military campaign is within sight, few expect the fighting to stop completely, and many observers continue to call for a political as well as a military solution, it said.

'The military is capturing territory it has lost, but the government isn't coming up with a political solution,' the magazine quoted R Sampanthan, the Parliamentary leader of the Pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance, as saying.

Armed forces have alienated many Tamils, making it increasingly difficult to resolve the conflict. It has also increased attacks on the critics of the government.

'The Sri Lankan military campaign, however, has coincided with brutal attacks against government critics,' the report said.

Last week, unidentified armed men shot dead Lasantha Wickramatunga, a newspaper editor known for his critical exposes of the government.

'The Sri Lankan army is now trying to overcome an estimated 1,600 or so remaining Tigers compared with about 15,000 in 2006, when peace talks collapsed,' the New York-based magazine quoted a defence official as saying.

The LTTE [Images] -- the force that has been fighting more than a quarter-century for a separate Tamil state -- now appeared confined to a 230-square-mile wedge just below the Jaffna peninsula.

In recent weeks, the government's military campaign has made big strides. Troops captured Kilinochchi, an administrative centre for the Tamil Tigers, and seized Elephant Pass, a key point of access to the Jaffna Peninsula.

The whole credit goes to the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has made eliminating the Tigers a priority and invested resources to make it happen.

The expanded Sri Lankan army is now equipped to employ sophisticated counter-insurgency strategies -- such as a multi-front attack and quick raids behind Tiger lines, the report said.

Military spending has been surged to $1.7 billion for fiscal 2009, roughly 5 per cent of GDP and nearly 20 per cent of the government's budget, it said.

The military is encouraging rebels to surrender and they are offered safety and a livelihood, the magazine quoted an official to say adding about 50 have surrendered and been sent to rehabilitation camps.

The fighting in northern Sri Lanka [Images] has displaced hundreds of thousands of the Tamil minority, about 18 per cent of the country's population.




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