LTTE strength has nearly doubled since ceasefire - Defence Minister
Defence Minister Thilak Marapana speaking during the adjournment debate on the security situation in the country on Wednesday told Parliament that it was true that the LTTE strength in the areas surrounding the Trincomalee harbour have increased during the cease-fire period. Following are extracts of the speech;

"It is true that with the ceasefire and the MoU many opportunities have been afforded to the LTTE to strengthen themselves. But that I believe is the price we have to pay if we are to pursue the peace process to a permanent solution of the problem. We knew that when we signed the MoU.

"When we entered into a ceasefire our aim was to solve the problems we had with the LTTE not by the use of force but through negotiation. If that is our aim, then we must try to give the peace process a genuine chance without once again dragging the country into a burdensome war. But this is not to say that we should tolerate anything and everything and allow the LTTE to get stronger and stronger and be suddenly surprised by an attack, which we are unable to withstand. We have to act judiciously, be mindful all the while and take every new factor into consideration to face any eventuality in the future.

"Many speakers referred to the debacles in the past. We have made in depth studies of these incidents. To my mind what is important is not to blame anyone for the unfortunate episodes but to learn something even it be from mistakes made so that we are better prepared in the future.

It is true that the LTTE strength in the areas surrounding the Trincomalee harbour have increased during the ceasefire period. I do perceive this as an increased threat but the threat to the harbour was there from a long time ago, perhaps from about five, six years ago. Until about 1995 this entire area was well secured with many army camps with large number of troops in the area surrounding the harbour both to the north and the south.

But then these troops were withdrawn for operations in Jaffna and gradually the LTTE established a foothold. By the time of the ceasefire, the LTTE, it is well known had at least four major camps, two to the south and two to the north of the harbour. "Their heavy artillery was also within striking distance of the harbour. That was the scenario even before the ceasefire. So that threat was there. What happened with the ceasefire was that the army did not move about from their camps into the area south of the harbour.

We claim this area to be under our control, but we have since the withdrawal of several camps and troops from this area in 1995, not been able to affectively dominate this area. The LTTE has taken advantage of this and increased their presence in this area. To my mind the significance is not the number of camps in which this increased strength are stationed in, but the fact that the LTTE strength has nearly doubled since the ceasefire. That we were well aware of because there is a regular monitoring of LTTE presence everywhere.

"We have taken this into consideration in the preparation of military strategies to defend the harbour and the civilian population in the area as well as for any eventual offensive against the LTTE should the occasion arises. That is the important thing. I assure this House that it is not though the government and the forces have blissfully permitted the enemy to surround us without making adequate preparation to counter any threat. We have the plans, we have the troops and we have the equipment. We are not oblivious to the obvious.

"This is not only for Trincomalee but to meet any threat at anytime. I do not think that it is neither necessary nor prudent to elaborate on our plans and preparations on this occasion.

Let me once again assure this House that whilst we are reaping the benefits of a ceasefire that we are not unmindful of the opportunities it has created for the LTTE. These factors are periodically reviewed in our preparation for any eventuality. I must thank the Secretary Defence, the three service commanders, the IGP and all our forces personnel, without whose unstinting support we would not have been able to pursue the peace process whilst at the same time not forgetting the security of the country. We will not abandon the security of the country at the expense of the peace process".

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