Claiming that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had only 1,000 well-trained fighters left, the Sri Lankan Army Chief has asserted that the military offensive against the rebels would end soon as the Tamil Tigers were now "boxed" into a small jungle area in Mullaittivu district.
While refusing to hazard a guess on the time frame for liberating the entire northern Sri Lanka from the rebels, Army Chief Sarath Fonseka said he had been given another one year extension beginning January 2009 and the period is enough to completely clear the LTTE held areas.
"It would be extremely tough for the 1000-odd LTTE cadres to take on Sri Lankan army of 50,000 personnel, deployed in areas around Mullaittivu," Fonseka said.
"I don't have to worry even if the areas under LTTE are completely liberated by the security forces before my extension period. I will still have the remaining tenure intact," he quipped amidst laughter from the gathering on Saturday evening.
The top army officer said that as many as 100 rebel bodies have been recovered during this month itself.
"We have also been recovering bodies of girls who are female LTTE cadres and this shows their strength is depleting," Fonseka said, adding that the advancing troops were making 'rapid progress and have captured 17-km during the past 17 days toward Mullaitivu'.
Fonseka said the LTTE, which had taken pride in controlling their defacto administrative capital of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts for over last 10 years, were now 'boxed into a small jungle area in the Mullaitivu district', not being able to take on the mighty Lankan army.
"Soon you will see the final outcome of the war against the LTTE," the army commander said.
Since the beginning of this month, the security forces have captured major LTTE strongholds including Killinocchi, Paranthan, Elephant Pass and Muhamalai along the A-9 main highway and have taken full control of the routes after a period of 23 years.
A defence official said the A-9 highway would be opened for regular vehicular traffic after clearing it of landmines and other explosives.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had recently formally announced the capture of Kilinochchi as well as Elephant Pass in a nationwide television address.