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The BBC's Alastair Lawson in Colombo
"General Balagalle said troop morale is high"
 real 28k

Friday, 25 August, 2000, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Sri Lanka 'needs more troops'
Senior officials of Sri Lankan army
General Balagalle: 'Army united against Tamil rebels'
Sri Lanka's new army chief has asked for more manpower to launch a fresh offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Lieutenant-General Lionel Balagalle said the additional force was needed to hold on to the territory he intended to capture from the Tamil rebels.

"Without proper manpower we cannot go along the way that is required," General Balagalle said.

Military officials say the 100,000-strong Sri Lankan army requires 20,000 more soldiers to strengthen its campaign against the rebels

Controversy

General Balagalle's appointment has attracted criticism from those who believe that another officer, General Janak Perera, was a better candidate for the army chief's post.

General Perera was until recently the army commander of Jaffna.

Sri Lankan soldiers in Jaffna
Sri Lankan soldiers are battle-weary
The government put him in charge of Jaffna, in July this year, following serious reverses suffered at the hands of Tamil rebels.

General Perera was credited with stopping the Tamil offensive in the region, and was tipped to take over as the new army chief.

But the government appointed General Balagalle, instead.

General Balagalle sought to play down the controversy by saying that the army was united against the Tamil rebels.

"We are working together. There is no unhealthy situation in the army," General Balagalle was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.

Following the reverses in Jaffna peninsula in May this year, the Sri Lankan government has embarked on an arms-buying spree - acquiring new combat aircraft, naval vessels and rocket launchers.

General Balagalle said the new weapons had already boosted the army's morale.

"They (Tamil rebels) have no immediate answer to our (new) firepower, at least not yet."

He said the Tamils were training for an offensive and asked his soldiers to be ready to counter it.

Sri Lankan army has been fighting the Tamil rebels demanding a separate homeland since 1983.

More than 60,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict so far.

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See also:

11 Jul 00 | South Asia
Heavy fighting in Jaffna
01 Jun 00 | South Asia
New weapons boost Sri Lankan army
31 May 00 | South Asia
Tiger onslaught 'beaten back'
30 May 00 | South Asia
War costs for Sri Lanka
24 May 00 | South Asia
Push for Sri Lankan peace
23 Feb 00 | South Asia
What chance peace in Sri Lanka?
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