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LTTE is fast losing support: Lankan minister

May 12, 2008 10:55 IST

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama says that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam has lost out in terms of its causes as support for the terrorist outfit has been steadily decreasing both at home and abroad.

The foreign minister also said that thanks to joint patrol by the Indian and Sri Lankan governments in mid-seas the traditional arms-smuggling by the outfit has been coming down.

Speaking at the Asia Society in New York, Bogollagama said LTTE was now confined to two districts, one in the top part of the country and the other in Kilinochchi,  just below Jaffna district where they dominate.

'We are going through a process and are confident that we can clear the north first in a manner so that there is least amount of civilian casualties. That is why we are engaging only though areal attacks and without the infantry,' he said.

"We believe that a slow process will bring us greater benefit in getting into areas while freeing people who are being held by the LTTE and bring them to embrace government mechanisms and processes,' he said.

"That is our approach to countering terrorism in the northern part.' he said.

Bogollagama, who was in New York to solicit support for a seat for the island nation in the United Nations Human Rights Council, said that the roadmap for sustainable peace in Sri Lanka had  been made by the government despite all the challenges that it has.

'We have never given up our approach in trying to find a political solution to the problem like how we are doing in  the east to address the conflict in Sri Lanka. We cannot tolerate terrorism and LTTE recruiting children as its members and threatening the economy of our country,' he said.

Citing an example to bolster his claim that LTTE has lost popular support, Bogollagama said that last month the LTTE launched attack on a public bus in which there was not one single politician or a security personnel, but only civilians, people returning home from work, 25 of whom were killed.

'The reason for the attack on civilians was sheer frustration of the LTTE as the organisation has lost all public support,' he said.

'We believe that the LTTE is on its way out. Their international support generated from the Tamil diaspora – and we strongly believe that the Tamil diaspora has been subjected to duress and various others means (of coercion) through which they were extracting support for them. And today the international community has come to support us believing that we have the right agenda in Sri Lanka for a home-grown solution against the LTTE front,' he said.

'The Tamil Rehabilitation Organizations  that have been set up as front organizations by the LTTE are coming under states' scrutiny, including in Europe and also in the US and their fund transfers are being observed and preventive measures have been taken,' Bogollagama said.

He said as far as drug trafficking, 'through which LTTE has been generating funds' is concerned, it has decreased because of an international alert.

'The arms smuggling into Sri Lanka has come under strict surveillance thanks to joint efforts by the Sri Lankan and the Indian government. We have taken (their) ships in mid-seas and mid oceans. That is how we are looking to combat terrorism,' he said.

But the minister admitted 50 percent of the gross domestic product of Sri Lanka has traditionally been contributed by the western provinces of the country, including Colombo.

"It  shows how much uneven is the distribution. Not enough money has gone into development and industrialization (into the other parts of the country). This is what we are trying to correct now, including  development of peripheral areas. The moment we are able to clear the LTTE from their hold, we would be able to activate the economies in the north of Sri Lanka.

During his visit here last week Bogollagama met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to apprise the world body chief of the recent developments in Sri Lanka, particularly, the efforts for the restoration of democracy in the Eastern Province.

The foreign minister briefed on the process of recovery currently underway, on the directions of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, to empower the people of the Eastern Province following the eviction of the LTTE by the security forces and the Provincial Council Elections in the Eastern Province currently that was being held last week.

'The 15th SAARC summit will be this year in Colombo. We believe that we are on the right track.  We have to play the right role as one of the oldest democracies in the world,' Bogollagama said in response to a question.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York