One of Asia’s longest-running wars could soon be over if Sri Lanka’s government is to be believed.
Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the BBC on Friday that government forces will soon recapture the rebel stronghold city of Kilinochchi, in the far north of the island nation.
“Our numbers are very much greater than theirs, our firepower is much greater. We are very confident we can win and we want to finish this very soon,” the BBC quoted him as saying.
The 25-year-old war between government forces and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, has killed 70,000 people, and displaced hundreds of thousands of others, according to news reports.
After a cease-fire ended in 2006, government forces routed the Tamil Tigers from the nation’s east, and have recently made rapid progress in the north.
Reviewing the news from Sri Lanka, both the Associated Press and the Christian Science Monitor pointed out that the defense secretary’s claims could not be independently verified and that both sides in the conflict have made sweeping exaggerations in the past.
Most journalists have been barred from the combat zone.
The Times of India reported heavy fighting in Kilinochchi, with government helicopters bombarding Tamil Tiger bunkers.
Foreign aid agencies had been told to leave the city earlier this year, according to the BBC.
The Christian Science Monitor quoted the aid organization International Crisis Group as accusing both sides in the conflict of human rights abuses, and questioning whether the government can really defeat Tamil separatism.
“Even assuming the Tigers can be defeated militarily, it remains unclear how the government would pacify and control the large Tamil-speaking areas in the north that have been under LTTE domination for a decade or more,” the Monitor quoted the group as saying in a statement.
“Sri Lanka claims it’s closing in on Tamil Tiger stronghold”
Christian Science Monitor, September 29, 2008
“Sri Lanka: 18 killed in clashes, blast in Colombo”
Times of India, September 29, 2008
“Sri Lanka troops ‘near victory'”
BBC, September 26, 2008
“Bomb hits Sri Lanka capital, fighting kills 21”
International Herald Tribune, September 29, 2008