June 30, 2008 / 12:50 PM / 12 years ago

Sri Lanka Tiger rebels on brink of defeat - army chief

By Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO, June 30 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka’s army commander said on Monday that Tamil Tiger rebels were being defeated and were losing their capacity to fight. Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka said the military had killed over 9,000 Tamil Tiger rebels over the past two years and had gained much territory.

"You can see they are weakening. They don’t have the same capacity and the willpower to fight now," Fonseka said addressing foreign journalists in Colombo.

Fonseka estimated the rebel strength at 5,000 cadres.

"I’m sure in...less than one year, the LTTE will totally lose even their present territory. Then they will resort to totally different type of tactics."

Fonseka was quoted by state media in December as saying there were only 3,000 rebels left.

His comments comes amid near daily land, sea and air attacks, as part of a wider strategy to gradually retake the Tigers’ northern stronghold and militarily win a protracted civil war.

The fighting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who are fighting to create an independent state for ethnic minority Tamils in north and east Sri Lanka since 1983, has killed more than 70,000 people.

Fonseka said the rebels were fighting not only to create a independent state in the north and east, but also to capture the entire country and to destroy the majority Singhalese in the island nation.

"We will not allow that at any cost, we will fight them," Fonseka said.

The government and rebels trade death toll claims that are rarely possible to independently verify.

Nordic truce monitors, who blamed troops and rebels for repeated abuses, were banished by the government after President Mahinda Rajapaksa formally scrapped a 6-year truce in January.

Analysts say the military has the upper hand in the latest phase of the long-running war given superior air power, strength of numbers and swathes of terrain captured in the island’s east. But they still see no clear winner on the horizon.

The Tigers are regularly hitting back with suicide attacks increasingly targeting civilians and roadside bombs, experts and the military say, which have deterred some tourists and have worried some investors in the $27 billion economy. (Editing by David Fox)

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