Sri Lanka’s army chief on Friday called for a political settlement to the island’s decades-long ethnic strife, a year after the Tamil Tiger rebels were defeated in a major military offensive.
Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya warned that although the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were crushed following the offensive in May last year, rebel remnants could try to regroup.
“It is up to the government and the people now to find the root cause of the problem and give a proper solution,” Jayasuriya told a meeting of businessmen in Colombo.
Jayasuriya took over as army chief in July, shortly after security forces killed the top leadership of the Tigers and ended their struggle for independence for the island’s minority Tamil community.
“I believe, in the end, a proper solution is needed. The LTTE have been eradicated militarily. But there are some elements here and overseas still trying to propagating Tamil (Tiger) cause,” he said.
The United Nations estimated some 7,000 Tamil civilians perished in the final months of fighting which brought an end to Asia’s longest-running guerrilla war. The conflict had claimed up to 100,000 lives since 1972.
Jayasuriya said state intelligence agencies had reported that LTTE fighters who escaped the fighting were trying to regroup.
“There are remnants out there. They can get activated to start a military process on another day. We are not ruling that out. We are keeping our eyes and ears open on them, on what they will do in the future.”
Jayasuriya said the current army strength of just over 200,000 men and women will be maintained to ensure that the Tigers do not stage a comeback.
He said most of the 10,000 rebels who surrendered last year will be released after the government completes a rehabilitation programme. However, some 1,000 who have been identified as hardcore rebels will be prosecuted, he added.
Sri Lanka has maintained its 2010 defence budget at 201 billion rupees (1.8 billion dollars), slightly lower than an estimated 210 billion rupees spent in 2009. Defence spending in 2008 was 204 billion rupees.