World News

Sri Lanka says will deal with "terrorists" firmly

BEIJING (Reuters) - Sri Lanka will deal with Tamil Tiger “terrorism” firmly, a government minister said on Thursday, arguing the island nation was faced with more suicide bombers than the entire Middle East.

Palitha Kohona, head of the government’s peace secretariat, rejected foreign criticism of the government’s recent offensive against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, saying it was dealing with terrorism like any other country would.

“Hardly a day passes without a time bomb, or a claymore mine or a hand grenade being thrown at military personnel or citizens by the LTTE and its supporters,” Kohona told a news conference in Beijing.

“The LTTE has deployed suicide bombers by a far larger number in Sri Lanka than in the whole of the Middle East combined,” he added. “The government will deal with terrorism firmly and decisively. All over the world, no country deals with terrorists with kid gloves.”

More than 67,000 people have been killed in Sri Lanka since the conflict erupted in 1983 -- around 4,000 of them since last year.

Rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in December declared the Tigers were resuming their independence struggle. Analysts said this meant the island’s long-running civil war would likely escalate, though a 2002 truce is still technically in place.

Major aid donors like the United States, European Union and World Bank have called on Sri Lanka to halt its declared offensive to wipe out the Tigers’ military capability.

Kohona, in Beijing to pave the way for an official visit by President Mahinda Rajapakse later this month, said that attitude puzzled his government, adding the army’s attacks, especially in the east, had been successful.

“Sometimes it does intrigue us as to why Sri Lanka should be asked to deal with terrorists in a different manner to the way the United Nations has dealt with terrorists,” he said.

“After the government adopted this approach of cleaning up the east, the number of attacks has been reduced considerably.”

Kohona, also the country’s foreign secretary, insisted that a Norwegian-brokered peace process was not dead, despite the upsurge in violence.

“We hope that the Norwegian facilitators will continue to play a critical role in bringing the Tamil Tigers to the negotiating table,” Kohona said.

“But as long as they (the Tigers) adopt terrorist approaches to achieving political objectives, the government will deal with them in an appropriate manner,” he added.

Emboldened by the capture of a key Tiger stronghold, the government has vowed to go on the offensive to destroy the rebels’ entire military machine.

Land and naval clashes, abductions, murders, ambushes and rights violations are now commonplace and the foes have ignored repeated international community calls to halt the hostilities.