Sri Lanka Tigers vow to strike back

Rebels tell Al Jazeera loss of eastern province does not mean they are finished.

    Tamil Tiger commanders admit they are taking losses but say they are far from finished


    Tamil Tiger forces in Sri Lanka have vowed to cripple the country's economy, attacking military and economic targets from their stronghold in the north.


    The declaration by the leader of the political wing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) comes after the government claimed it had captured the Tigers' last jungle outpost in the country's east.


    Sri Lankan government forces said on Wednesday that the capture of the Thoppigala base from LTTE forces had put the country's entire eastern province under government control for the first time in 14 years.


    "We now have to change our tactics in response to what the government has done," Supa Tamil Selvan, head of the LTTE's political secretariat, told Al Jazeera.


    Al Jazeera exclusive

    Watch Tony Birtley's report on the Tigers' vow to fight back

    "Our capability will be made known at the appropriate time, but the gloves are now off."


    The comments were echoed by Marshall Ilanthryain, the LTTE's military spokesman, who admitted the Tigers had suffered losses but were ready to retaliate.


    "Of course, they have dominated major patches of land in the east, that is true," he told Al Jazeera.


    "But that doesn't mean we are finished or we quit"


    Despite the losses in the east, the Tamil Tigers still control parts of northern Sri Lanka, where they operate a de facto state.


    Al Jazeera's Tony Birtley, who is in Tiger-controlled territory around Kilinochichi, says life is already tough for the 400,000 mostly Tamils who live there with shortages of basic necessities a fact of daily life.


    If the threatened escalations happens, he says, it is likely conditions in the north will get much worse.


    Tattered ceasefire


    Both sides accuse the other of
    violating the ceasefire agreement
    Norway's ambassador to Sri Lanka is hoping to keep alive a ceasefire signed by both sides in 2002.


    But over the past year-and-a-half the conflict has erupted again, with fighting, air strikes and assassinations claiming more than 5,000 lives.


    Both sides say that the tattered ceasefire must be observed before peace talks can be resumed, and both accuse the other of violating the agreement.


    On Friday, a Tiger spokesman told the Associated Press that no talks could take place until government forces withdraw from the captured east.


    "If the government's position is that it will sit tight in the east, in the newly captured territories, that is tantamount to saying they are not interested in negotiations, therefore, war," said S.P. Tamilselvan, a member of the Tigers' political wing.


    The government though appears to have no intention of giving up the area, saying it planned a celebration in the capital to mark the victories in the east.

    "There will be a big event in Colombo in keeping with the success of the armed forces in Thoppigala," presidential spokesman Lucien Rajakarunanayake said, adding that celebrations were scheduled for July 19.



    Much of the Tiger-held north of Sri Lanka
    shows the scars of years of fighting
    In the meantime if, as the Tigers warn, the fighting escalates yet further, our correspondent says those likely to be hardest hit are tens of thousands of displaced people, scattered across the Tiger-controlled areas of the north.


    Many used to live in Jaffna, but the war forced them to move 11 years ago and since then they have been forced to move repeatedly.


    "Every time I hear shelling I think we may have to move again," one man told Al Jazeera. "We just want to go home."


    Our correspondent says that while many seem committed to the Tigers' goal of a free nation, known as Tamil Eelam, job and educational prospects are slim.


    As a result, he says, after 24 years of fighting and a conflict that has claimed more than 70,000 lives, some see joining the Tamil Tigers as the only way out.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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