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Last modified on: 12/30/2010 11:29:36 PM 'Victory day not far off'- An interview with the Army Chief, Gen. Sarath Fonseka

'Victory day not far off'- An interview with the Army Chief, Gen. Sarath Fonseka

Days of pampering "Arm - Chair' Generals Over:

Agreeing that the national problem could only be solved through political means, the Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka said that not only Tamils but also Sinhalese and the Muslims need political solutions to solve some of their problems.

He said that the political solution should be completely different from what the LTTE and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) were clamouring for. Their ultimate goal is to destroy Sinhalese as was revealed by the 'Eelam Pandiyan' cadres, who had surrendered earlier."

They admitted that they were motivated by the LTTE during their training period not only to kill the Sinhalese soldiers but also the Sinhalese people as well".

The Army Commander said that numerous problems faced by the innocent Tamils in the North and East due to LTTE terrorism would not be solved by making R. Sampanthan or someone else the Prime Minister of the so-called Eelam.

Welcoming President Mahinda Rajapaksa's invitation to the LTTE to resume peace talks provided they lay down their arms, the Army chief assured that the Army's forward march to liberate Wanni would continue without any hindrance.

Commenting on recent allegation on the attack on the media, Lt. Gen. Fonseka said that he has a huge military arm with a strength of over 162, 000 men who have been trained to kill but not to assault.

"Certain media personnel, who have been misled by certain disgruntled military officials, do not write in the interest of the people and the country. How can they demand media freedom when they do not follow basic ethics", he queried.

  • LTTE's route to ferry across ordnance is blocked with the capture of Vidathalathivu.

  • Some more LTTE controlled areas to be captured before NCP elections.

  • President and the government will no doubt deserve the credit for the military victories.

  • LTTE avoid confrontations with the military to minimize their casualties.

  • LTTE have lost over 9,000 cadres in the last two years and 3000 have been forcibly conscripted.

  • LTTE Leader Prabhakaran is good as dead and is too old to command a terrorist outfit.

  • Prabhakaran's true nature shows when he kills unarmed civilians whenever defeat stares at his face.

  • Army never had an overall strategy earlier to fight and capture LTTE controlled areas.

  • The strength of the Sri Lanka Army has risen from 118,000 to 162,000, with a reserve of 12,000 well trained soldiers in the North.

  • The Army was not responsible for the attack on Keith Noyair.

  • Some disgruntled high ranking military officials provide misleading information to the media.

  • Top Army officers are frustrated because their personal welfare is not looked after at the expense of Army welfare.

  • Officers who ran away from Mullaithivu, Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass battle fronts are senior Generals in the Army now today.

Excerpts:

Q: What is the strategic importance of Vidathalativu and what would be the impact on the LTTE which had lost its main Sea Tiger base after 18 years of control?

A: Vidathalathivu was a major Sea Tiger base in the Western coast, where most of the sea operations of the LTTE were launched. They maintained this base to smuggle in arms and ammunition from India via the Mannar islands.

Now all their operations in the West are blocked and have to operate from Nachchikuda side, where the movements are quite difficult. The main thrust has now reached very close to Thunukai. The Kokkadival and Kadavan have to be captured to protect the Western flank.

Q: But the Opposition has claimed, that Vidathalativu, was abandoned by the LTTE some weeks ago and now dominated by the military, has become a show piece to get political mileage during the forthcoming North Central Provincial elections?

A: I feel the Opposition must be conducting some reconnaissance missions in these areas. The military is no doubt entitled to get a political mileage especially after capturing areas like Vidathalathivu and Mannar.

Most probably we will capture many more places before the elections. Are they expecting us to sit and wait until the elections are over? We would like to know who the people are keep monitoring our movements from their houses.

Q: They also claim that the Army helps the government to take political mileage through some of these military victories. How do you see these allegations?

A: The President of the country being the Commander in Chief is entitled to get the credit for all these military victories. He is the one who takes decisions and responsibilities of launching these major offensives. Wars are launched by the governments and credit of its success will naturally go to the government and not to the Opposition.

Do they expect the Army to lose these battles and face reversals? So, then the credit will not go to the government like what had happened in the past.

Q: You have set deadlines to capture Wanni in the past and also gave an assurance of a turning point in August. Is the military ready to go for this target now or do you have to reset another time-frame?

A: No, I never gave specific deadlines as such but what I said was that I will here to capture Wanni during my tenure of office. And, I never said as to when I will be finishing my term. That depends on how long the President wants me to serve. I will do my best to finish it within a reasonable time.

I don't think any layman would ever think of capturing such a massive area killing 8,000 to 9,000 terrorists in the process within an year. We captured Vidathalathivu and the troops have advanced 3kms within a day.

In Chirandikulam we killed 25 terrorists few weeks ago. Now we have seven km north of Chiraddikulam and three km in the south of Thunukkai.

The changes are taking place in the battle fronts. The Army could not move even 100 metres further up and we fought for months to inch forward. But now the troops are getting into a faster mode. We had only 12 casualties last week whereas those days there used to over 40 soldiers who get killed.

Now they do not confront us as earlier, where we were able to kill more than 150 terrorists a week. Last week only 15 terrorists were killed. The LTTE is avoiding confrontations with us as they do not want to suffer high number of casualties. They have now changed their way of confronting us.

Q: Isn't this pattern changing because that they are facing a severe shortage of manpower?

A: Yes, that has resulted to a greater extent. They have lost over 9,000 in the last two years. The number of cadres were killed in the East was over 2,000, then over 1,000 in Jaffna, 3,000 in Wanni, over 2,000 in Mannar, and over 1,000 in Weli Oya. The Air Force has killed about a 1,000 and the Navy has killed 329. These official figures were officially released at the last Security Council meeting.

The total number of casualties is very high. According to intelligence there are over 5,000 cadres in the North including their political cadres, home guards in bunkers and Nadeshan's cadres. The LTTE has recruited over 3,000 people forcibly. The quality of their fighting has deteriorated.

In addition to the shortage of manpower, the LTTE lacks leaders, after the death of their so called leaders, Anton Balasingham, Tamilselvam and Balaraj. Prabakaran is as good as dead and is too old to lead a terrorist outfit. Normally terrorist leaders are aggressive and young people. So the LTTE is fighting a losing battle while the Sri Lankan military is becoming stronger day by day.

Q: According to a certain media, the number of LTTE cadres killed is different from the figures that you give. So some claim that it is a numbers game to continue with the war. What do you have to say ?

A: The Army gets these numbers from our intelligence by listening to the LTTE transmissions. After every confrontation, the LTTE updates these numbers and they are not decided by the Army.

In Vidathalathivu, the LTTE has lost over 30 terrorists and these numbers are confirmed by their transmissions. People who claim that this is a numbers game are the ones who believe that the terrorists, and also have more faith in the LTTE than the Sri Lankan Army.

Q: You have said that the LTTE's days are numbered. How confident are you that you can eliminate the LTTE before the end of your tenure?

A: Yes, why I say that their days are numbered is by comparing what had happened during the last two years. In the last two years they have lost territories, the East and now Mannar. Over 1,200 square km area in the North have now been captured. This same trend was there for two years when we liberated the East and the same will followed until we capture the North.

LTTE has lost two thirds of its manpower and a large stock of weapons including 2,500 rifles and other heavy weapons. They are running out of arms now. As the fighting is going round the clock the LTTE could not remain without ammunition and weapons to face us. So, I don't think that the LTTE can keep pace with this schedule. It is an impossible task for them.

Q: How do you assess the input of the intelligence services? Are they more efficient than it was some years ago?

A: Yes, at the moment they are doing a tremendous job. In the past when we were in the field we did not have confidence in their services. They were actually doing basically, 'post mortems' on the movements of terrorists and how their planned attack.

Now the situation has changed and we can rely on them who give us accurate intelligence information on terrorist activities, their strength and possible actions that they may resort to. We revamped the intelligence services with some important changes.

Q: Innocent people in Yala still come under LTTE attacks. Why has the military failed to capture the LTTE terrorists who have a free run in Yala?

A: It is a long 90 km stretch of jungle terrain, with a width of 40 km from Yala to Kanchikuddichchiaru in the Eastern Province towards Ampara. The group which had shot at the bus was the same group that had fired at the Army patrol in Panama about a month ago.

They have used the same weapons this time as well. When they are defeated they use very cheap tactics under the instructions of Prabhakaran, who has never being humane. After the Army clears the Kanchikuddichchi area, the STF will set up new camps in this area to deter them. We have already taken steps with the STF to hunt them.

Q: You have taken part in almost all the major military operations in the last 25 years. Where do you think that we had failed and why?

A: We had failed due to many reasons. The main reason was the Army did not have an overall strategy to fight and capture the LTTE controlled areas. We were only going for very limited operations. We launched offensives without aiming to capture Jaffna and there were no plans to liberate the East.

We commenced operation 'Jayasikuru' and fought for three years without a proper plan to eliminate LTTE cadres from that area. We merely captured camps. We were limited only to certain operations like the rescue of Jaffna Fort or the Elephant Pass. The Army started Eelam war I and II just to rescue camps.

At that time we did not have plans to deploy troops to hold on to these camps. While we were conducting operations in the North the Army vacated all the camps in the East. When I was the Brigade Commander, Welikanda, I remember how we vacated Mavil Aru, Vakarai and Kadiraweli in 1993 and in 1994 because we were attacked from the Punani - Valaichchenai road.

Today, we have an overall plan and this plan did not come up from nowhere. We worked very hard, trained troops, then created over 40 new battalions, and then we have deployed over 8,000 additional troops in the East. And we have a reserve about 12,000 in the North, where we had only 1500 earlier.

In Wanni, Mannar and Weli Oya, over 13,000 troops are going on the offensive operations. We have filled almost all the vacancies. The Sri Lanka Army which had a force strength of 118,000 has now gone upto 162,000.

We have put lots of efforts on training and the expansion of the Army. Although we are fighting in Mannar, Weli Oya and Vavuniya we are also planning ahead to capture Kilinochchi or Mullaithivu. The top officials of the Army do not sit in well secured offices and give them orders. Guidelines are very clear and don't give impossible tasks, so the soldiers are going ahead with lots of confidence.

Q: The Chief Opposition Whip, Joseph Michael Perera has accused you of having a special squad to attack media personnel who are critics of the military. Is there any truth in what he says"?

A: I have a large force operating with a strength of 162, 000 who have been trained to kill and not to assault. He who says all these things must furnish all the details to the police if he has all the information. I think he has lots of sympathy for me. No point in him talking inside the Parliament, where nobody is going to take any action. As far as what he has mentioned all what I can say is that these are baseless allegations.

Q: But it is reported that the Army is behind the attack on Keith Noyair of The Nation newspaper who had written a military story criticizing the military few weeks before the attack. What do you have to say about this allegation?

A: How many other journalists write political or military columns? Why should the Army attack only on Keith Noyair. I have never seen anywhere that Keith Noyair had said that the Army had attacked him. Some people are trying to put us against him. He has never accused that the Army had assaulted him. And I think perhaps he is guilty that he has done something wrong by writing against the military.

Q: Is he tight-lipped because he is supposed to be in fear of reprisals?

A: If he has not done anything wrong, he does not have to live in fear. If he has done some damage to our organisation or to a person, especially when he has done something which he is not suppose to do, then it is natural he must be living in fear. If they think that they have done something of that nature the best thing for them is to correct themselves and rectify the mistake.

Q: What is the role you expect the media to play during the time of war?

A: War or no war, the media should write in the interest of the country and not to please their favourites. The media is supposed to play a neutral role to educate people. They are not supposed to create situations where they groom people and make heroes out of them. I do not think that certain media in this country is doing their duty with a sense of responsibility.

We know that they are being bribed, given 'drinks', treated in restaurants and they have their own vested interests. And is it ethical them to go for agendas misleading people?.

These so called media guys are not responsible to the people and they are not entitled to such media freedom. Media freedom is there for you to do the right thing and to be fair by everybody. Nobody has given freedom for anybody to drive their own agendas. We know very well about those media people who take bribes, write and voice their opinion for some personal gains.

That Keith Noyair who was assaulted was returning from a restaurant with his friends and they were drunk. We do not know that somebody in the restaurant had got annoyed with them, followed him and assaulted.

So, especially the media people should behave well and set an example to others. To me, those who stage protests with unshaven beards, long hairs and wearing costumes like in fancy dress competitions are not scribes who are clamouring for media freedom but a gang of thugs.

Q: Journalists too have the right to stage protests demanding media freedom, justice and their appearance seems to immaterial. Can you deny that right?

A: They can stage their protests in a decent way. I do not mind learning from them if they can behave properly. Behaving like thugs! Is that what you call media freedom? They can talk if some thing goes wrong in the interest of people and the country. They can point it out. I am ready to learn from those who have a sense of responsibility towards national interest.

Q: Some media organisations claim that the military wants to cover up reality in the name of war. What is your comment?

A: I hope I have explained the reality of some of the media people in this country. Those who are criticising on the progress that the Army has made, by confining to their editorials can come with us to have a look at most of the bunkers.

It is a shame that some of these journalists who criticize the military have never gone beyond Madawachchiya. When the offensives were going on in the East they had never stepped beyond Manampitiya.

This is how they write their criticisms claiming the military assault and the media to cover up the reality. So, we can arrange these media personnel to listen to terrorist transmissions. But they have to write what exactly that they listen to.

Meanwhile, I want warn these media guys to beware of those disgruntled high ranking military officials. They are the ones who are leaking out misleading information to the media. We know about them and have sidelined them now.

Q: There is a claim that certain top military officials are frustrated as they are not getting their due promotions. What are the steps taken to rectify the situation?

A: Yes, they are frustrated because we are now not looking after them. I want the Army to look after the welfare of the country. Our army officers can not walk around like US or British Army officers.

These people are frustrated because I am not going out of my way to look after their welfare at the expenses of the Army welfare. If I put a weak man to command a division and thereby sacrifice hundreds of soldiers like what happened in Mullaithivu, Elephant Pass and Killinochchi.

Then I will be really looking after them. Those who ran away leaving their command posts in Mullaithivu, kilinochchi and Elephant Pass are senior Generals in the Army now. Their welfare have been perfectly looked after that time. But who looked after the welfare of those who died and went missing? Do they want me to do the same? No, I will never do that.

Those who can't produce results will not be looked after and the only way that I can help them is by helping them to get a job outside. Because, there are lots of jobs for retiring Generals and Brigadiers.

There are others in the Army who deal with anti-war NGOs and the media to insult the Army. These are the people who leak information and pass the wrong information to create unfortunate situations.

So the media should be careful about these disgruntled top military officials. I am not occupying this seat merely to look after those failured officers.

Q: President Mahinda Rajapaksa has reiterated the willingness to resume talks with the LTTE, if they lay down their arms. Do you think that holding peace talks is necessary when the LTTE is getting cornered?

A: Yes, only if they lay down arms and come for peace talks after totally stopping terror activities. In such an environment, the President's willingness to negotiate with the LTTE is absolutely a correct decision.

Q: If the LTTE accept the condition to commence peace talks will the military be confined to the barracks?

A: That will never happen. They can continue with the Talks but we will clear the North. The President had never said that forward march of the Army to liberate the North will have to stop. Our troops will carry on.

Q: We can achieve military victories against LTTE terrorism. But do you agree that the national problem can be solved only through political means?

A: Yes, I think the whole country needs some political changes to solve certain problems. So these political solutions have to come not only for Tamils but for all the communities.

Some Tamil political, especially the couple of TNA MPs who say some thing here and utter differently when in the LTTE controlled areas may have some serious political problems which no one can address as their aspirations are totally different.

In those war torn areas the people are facing tremendous hardships.

The damage due to war is huge and they do not have better infrastructure like roads and bridges like in other areas. People are uneducated and children are suffering from malnutrition.

These problems cannot be solved by making R. Sampanthan or somebody else the Prime Minister of the so-called Eelam. These people need solution for these problems.

Courtesy : Sunday Observer 

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