COLOMBO (AFP) — Sri Lanka's top military commanders have vowed to win the decades-old war against Tamil separatists in the new year, a state-run daily said.
Army chief Sarath Fonseka said he hoped government forces would be able to dislodge the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from the line of bunkers guarding their de facto mini-state in the north of the island.
"We can bring the war against the LTTE to a turning point once we are able to destroy the LTTE capabilities to operate in bunkers and forward defence lines," Fonseka was quoted as saying in the Daily News.
The paper also quoted both navy chief Wasantha Karannagoda and air force commander Roshan Gunatilleke as saying they were "confident" of defeating the Tigers in the new year.
The LTTE has been leading a drawn-out campaign for an independent homeland for the island's ethnic Tamil minority since 1972. More than 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
Karannagoda said the guerrillas were starved of supplies after the navy sank their fleet of gun-running ships in 2007, but the rebels continued to receive some items from neighbouring India.
"The arms and ammunition they receive at present come only across the Palk Straits from Tamil Nadu" in southern India, the paper quoted Karannagoda as saying.
Government forces wrested control over the east of the island in July, and have since focused attention on dismantling the mini-state in the northern Wanni region.
"The Tri-Forces commanders yesterday expressed confidence that 2008 would be a decisive year in their effort of eliminating terrorism... they were already on course towards accomplishing this task," the Daily News said.
On Sunday, the state-run Sunday Observer said the military planned to "eliminate" the Tamil Tigers -- and their estimated 3,000-strong army -- in the next six months.
And on Saturday the brother of the island's President Mahinda Rajapakse and its powerful defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, said the government should formally pull out of a now-moribund truce brokered by Norway in 2002.
The ceasefire, he said, has "become a joke."
The air force carried out strikes against rebel-held territory in the north on Monday, following heavy clashes at the weekend, military officials said.
The defence ministry said troops killed at least 33 members of the LTTE and wounded another 38 in the latest battles in the district of Mannar. The ministry placed its own losses at six soldiers wounded, but the Tigers said they had killed at least 20 government soldiers and wounded another 40.
Both sides regularly make sharply differing claims about the number of casualties and independent verification is rarely possible. Journalists are not allowed into rebel-held areas in the north.
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