OVER two thousand Sri Lankan Army (SLA) soldiers were killed and four thousand wounded in the battles of 2007, TamilNet reported yesterday.
The information was given by commander of the SLA, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka.
He addressed a conference at Army Headquarters last week, where he also claimed that over five thousand Tamil Tigers were killed last year.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government has forbidden military officials from giving interviews and launched a hunt for those leaking details to the media.
The government has instructed ambulances transporting wounded soldiers from Ratmalana airport to hospitals in Colombo not to use their sirens.
Lt. Gen. Fonseka was addressing Principal Staff Officers and Directors at Army Headquarters in a conference held every four months.
In the context of government anger over military officials leaking details of battlefield setbacks to the media, he told the 90-minute conference: ‘We have not given the 2007 casualty figures to the media. If anyone present wants to give it, they are free to do so.’
The Army chief, who is under media criticism for inflating claims of military successes, also spoke on eradicating corruption and the need for discipline.
Last month the Sri Lanka Army suffered a debacle when it attacked the LTTE’s forward defence lines (FDLs) in Jaffna.
Whilst Lt. Gen. Fonseka claimed that 47 soldiers were killed and 126 were wounded, it was leaked that hundreds of soldiers were killed and 355 confirmed wounded.
Other media reports, also quoting Sri Lankan military officials, putting the toll at much higher levels. The AFP news agency quoted military sources as saying at least 165 soldiers were killed with 20 more going missing.
The LTTE said 150 troops were killed in the day-long clashes on April 23 and handed back the bodies of 28 soldiers.
Before the LTTE’s handover, facilitated by the international Red Cross, Sri Lankan press reports said the bodies of 143 soldiers had been brought to three funeral parlours in and around Colombo.
Lt. Gen. Fonseka had told the conference at Army Headquarters that the casualties in Jaffna were not his fault: people who gave arms and ammunition to the Tigers should be blamed, he said.
Meanwhile, Army Headquarters sent out instructions this week to all installations forbidding personnel from taking part in radio programmes.
The government has launched a hunt for military officials who leak details to the media, but nonetheless, there are a vast number of officers and men who want the public to know the truth. They put themselves on the firing line to speak out in the national interest.
For the media as well as the Sri Lankan public who see, hear and read newspapers, the challenges are many. Do they report non-existent victory after victory where thousands of guerrillas have perished or tell the story to the public the way it happens?
The former would make them celebrated heroes and the latter, unpatriotic villains or ‘rapists of the truth’ as the government dubs those who do not sing hosannas for them.
Meanwhile, another outcome of the Muhamalai debacle was the instruction sent out to ambulances bringing in casualties from the Ratmalana airport to hospitals in Colombo. They have been told to avoid the use of sirens.
Wailing sirens have often been an indication to residents living along the route from the airport to hospitals to discern something had gone wrong in the battle areas.
Meanwhile, large-scale search operations in Colombo have seen 84 taken to Pettah police station, and 15 detained
Around 300 Tamils were taken into Jinthuppiddi grounds following a large-scale search operation conducted by the police with the assistance of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) covering Kathiresan Street and Jinthupity Street in Colombo on Saturday morning.
84 persons were taken in two buses to Pettah police station and fifteen of them were detained there for interrogations on Saturday evening, police said.
More than one thousand residences, with natives from Jaffna, Batticaloa, Ampaa’rai and Up-Country, were subjected to thorough searches by the Police and the SLA from 4:30am till 11:00am Saturday.
Around 300 persons were brought to the Jinthuppiddi ground for ‘failing to provide a valid reason for their stay in Colombo’.
84 of them were finally taken to a police station.
Upcountry Peoples Front parliamentarian and Deputy Minister of Vocational Training, P. Radhakrishnan, contacted by the relatives, rushed to the police station and discussed the situation of the victims with the police officials.
According to latest update, 15 of the 84 persons taken to the police have been detained there for further interrogations.