SLA admits loss of Iyakkachchi

[TamilNet, Monday, 24 April 2000, 20:47 GMT]
Addressing the first press conference since the fall of the strategic Elephant Pass base this evening in Colombo, the commander of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), Lt. General Sri Lal Weerasooriya, said that his troops withdrew from Jaffna's gateway garrison on April 22 to an area northwest of Iyakkachchi and that this was done to safeguard Jaffna.

The Commander of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), Lt. General Sri Lal Weerasooriya, speaks during a press conference in Colombo. Photo:AP
Major General Lionel Balagalle, Army Chief of Staff, SLA spokesman Brig. Palitha Fernando and the Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force co-ordinators for Jaffna were also present at the press briefing at the SLA headquarters in downtown Colombo.

Answering a query from a journalist about the gateway garrison, Maj. Gen. Balagalle said that Elephant Pass was important for holding Jaffna. He also said that the army would take back the base. The SLA commander, however, chose to pass on to another matter without commenting on the assertion of his Chief of Staff. He asserted that the withdrawal was dictated by purely military reasons.

The wife of Brigadier Percy Fernando, deputy commander of the army's 54 division in the northern Jaffna peninsula grieves over his coffin in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Monday, April 24, 2000. Brig. Fernando was killed when the Liberation Tigers overran Iyakkachchi-Elephant Pass base complex. Photo:AP
Gen. Sri Lal Weerasooriya said that the army needs more manpower and has to modernise its weapons systems. He divided the battle for Elephant Pass into two phases - one from January 31 to March 26 and the other from March 27 to April 21.

According to the SLA commander, 1166 soldiers and 66 officers were wounded and 8 officers and 148 soldiers were killed during the first phase. And on April 22, 8 officers and 80 soldiers were killed and over 100 missing in action. He added that 17 officers and 438 troopers were injured on that day.

The commander acknowledged that several officers and soldiers were suffering from dehydration at the time of the LTTE's assault on the Iyakkachchi-Elephant Pass base complex. He was responding to a question about a report in an English daily today that Col. Bhathiya Jayatilleka, the commanding officer of the 54-1 brigade was dehydrated at the time of his death.


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