Ratwatte heaps scorn on LTTE's ceasefire-again

[TamilNet, Thursday, 10 May 2001, 11:51 GMT]
"The LTTE's ceasefire was a myth. The troops involved in the Agni Khiela operation have been successfully extending their area of control", said Sri Lanka's Deputy Minister for Defence, Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte, speaking on the extension of the Emergency Thursday. Two elite Divisions of the Sri Lanka army comprising more than ten thousand soldiers took part in Operation Agni Khiela I barely two hours after the unilateral ceasefire declared by the Liberation Tigers on 24 December 2000 expired last month. The Tigers routed the offensive in four days of fighting. Gen. Ratwatte lambasted further the Tigers and their unilateral ceasefire in his speech.

The Sri Lankan government totally rejected the ceasefire unilaterally declared by the Liberation Tigers and continued to do so when they (the Tigers) extended it further in January, February and March.

The SLA and the Sri Lanka government believed and claimed that the Liberation Tigers had declared the ceasefire unilaterally because they had been weakened militarily. Senior SLA officers averred at the time that the Tigers were urging that Colombo should reciprocate their ceasefire to pre-empt offensives in the peninsula that could weaken them further.

The Sri Lankan government concurred with them and gave the green light to make massive logistical and tactical preparations for the Agni Khiela series of operation designed to eventually retake Elephant Pass and consolidate it with another garrison and satellite camps.

Western military analysts too believed that a high volume of fire and intense aerial bombardment with the SLAís newly acquired multi-barrel rocket launchers and airpower unprecedented in the war against the Tigers would neutralise the LTTEís defences in Jaffnaís southern sector to clear the way for government troops to manoeuvre a two pronged advance towards the town of Palli and thence to Elephant Pass.

The Minister claimed in his address to Parliament today that 1905 Sri Lanka army soldiers were wounded and 255 were killed and missing in action in Operation Agni Khiela I. He said 88 soldiers are reported missing.

The Liberation Tigers handed over to the army the bodies of 98 soldiers who were killed in the Agni Khiela debacle through the International Committee of the Red Cross. They said that many more bodies of SLA soldiers were trapped in bunkers destroyed in the fighting.

Military sources in Colombo said that the figure given by the Minister in Parliament today did not include many of the soldiers whose bodies were handed over through the ICRC. They said that the final tally would exceed 300 when all the units which took part in the offensive are checked thoroughly and the dead and missing are officially determined. They added that the Ministerís figure for the wounded did not include hundreds who were discharged early.

The elite 53 Division of the SLA that operates under the tutelage of the US Army Special Forces and the 55 Division have been structurally debilitated in the LTTEís counter attack, sources said. ìMost teeth units of the two Divisions have to be re-organisedî, a SLA headquarters officer in Colombo said.

The 54 Division that held the Elephant Pass base which the Tigers captured in April last year was similarly debilitated and is no more operational.

However, the SLA officer said that it wouldnít be the case with the 53 and 55 although many of their units have to be reorganised soon.


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