(For the main story see [ID:COL386638]
March 11 (Reuters) - Sri Lankan troops are fighting the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatists in a war zone now measuring just 37 square km (15 square miles) and are confident of winning a conflict that is Asia's longest-running.
Here are some questions and answers about what happens now:
IS THE END OF THE WAR NEAR?
As far as a conventional war goes, definitely. The military has the Tigers surrounded with their backs to the Indian Ocean. The army has nearly five full divisions at the front, and nearly four holding at the rear. In terms of numerical superiority and armaments, it's hands-down on the government side. There are at least 50,000 soldiers against what the military says are around 1,000 hardcore, well-trained Tiger fighters. There are also other irregular fighters, either forcibly pressed into service or loyal to the LTTE.
HOW FAST WILL IT FINISH?
That is difficult to say. The army commander in overall charge of the war zone, Major-General Jagath Jayasuriya, told Reuters recently that taking the last territory was a one-day job if civilians weren't there. But that's the rub: there are tens of thousands of civilians there. Nearly all are inside a 12-km coastal strip no more tha a half-kilometre wide, which the army declared a no-fire zone. The government says no more than 70,000 are there while the Red Cross says there are 150,000. The numbers are actually immaterial -- the fact is people are there and are the LTTE's final trump card.
(For more about civilians, click on [ID:nCOL391133])
ARE THE TIGERS STILL IN THE FIGHT?
Yes. The Tigers appear to have saved their best-trained fighters for the last battles, and have attempted several counterattacks and infiltrations into army-held areas. The military said it killed 195 of them this weekend during a wave of last-ditch assaults. [ID:nSP484979] But the military is confident of wiping them out completely, and has not failed to achieve any of its objectives since launching its offensive against the LTTE in August 2006. The only one left? Victory.
WHAT ABOUT THE LTTE'S LEADERS?
The commander of the army's 58th Division, Brigadier Shavendra Silva, recently told Reuters all the known second-tier LTTE leaders "are in the no-fire zone. It's not a rough idea, it is a clear idea." The LTTE commanders have been repeatedly monitored on the radio. The military now says it suspects leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran is there too, but says he has remained off the radio and his precise location is unknown.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE GROUND WAR?
The military says it expects some LTTE fighters to hide among civilians for a time, then begin carrying out hit-and-run attacks. They will collect weapons from caches believed hidden all over northern Sri Lanka. Soldiers are busy looking for those, and the army's commander has said his troops are ready for any counterattacks. The Tigers are also likely to keep carrying out suicide attacks all over the island, like one that killed 14 people and wounded 35 on Tuesday outside a mosque. That will be a much more difficult tactic to counter, security analysts say. [ID:nSP477627] (Editing by Jerry Norton)
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