Page last updated at 15:31 GMT, Friday, 26 September 2008 16:31 UK

Sri Lanka troops 'near victory'

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Colombo

Sri Lankan soldier
Civilians have fled as government troops have attacked the Tamil Tigers

Sri Lanka's powerful Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has said the government is on the verge of victory in the war against Tamil Tiger rebels.

"In all fronts we are very superior, on the ground, the sea and air," said Mr Rajapaksa in an interview with the BBC.

"Our numbers are very much greater than theirs, our firepower is much greater. We are very confident we can win and we want to finish this very soon."

About 70,000 people have been killed in one of South Asia's longest wars.

After a ceasefire fighting resumed in earnest in mid-2006 and Sri Lanka's military ejected the Tigers from the East.

Attention then turned to territory controlled in the north by the rebels, who want a separate state for the ethnic Tamil minority.


In recent months troops have advanced rapidly, and Mr Rajapaksa, who is the brother of Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa, said they are now 4.5km (2.8 miles) from the rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi.

The Tigers administer areas under their control from the town.

The government bars most journalists from areas where the fighting is taking place and the military's accounts cannot be independently verified.

Civilians have fled their homes ahead of the military's advance, moving further into the diminishing area still held by the Tigers.

Aid agencies estimate 200,000-230,000 displaced people are in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.

'Indirect fire'

Earlier this month humanitarian workers from the United Nations and other aid agencies left Kilinochchi.

The government ordered them out saying their safety could not be guaranteed.

"Now we are very close to Kilinochchi and we don't want these organisations to get unnecessarily involved in the crossfire, to get hurt with indirect fire," the defence secretary said.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa  (left) and his brother President Rajapaksa
The Rajapaksa brothers think the war is going their way

Mr Rajapaksa also defended tight security in Colombo saying it was intended to curb bombings which have been blamed on the Tigers.

Tamils have complained of harassment, frequent searches and arbitrary detention.

All those who had arrived in the city and surrounding towns in the last five years from the five war torn northern districts, overwhelmingly Tamils, were ordered to register with the police last weekend.

"There is a threat. We have to take precautions to safeguard the innocent people of this country," Mr Rajapaksa said.

"We know all Tamil people are not terrorists, that is true, but almost all terrorists are Tamil, 98 percent of the terrorists are Tamil.

"When you do operations of course, the Tamil community will get targeted. But this is not because the government and the security forces want to harass Tamils. It is because of the Tamil Tigers that this is happening."

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