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Sri Lanka Army Amazed by Size of Captured Rebel Arsenal


Top brass of Sri Lanka's Army say they are astonished by the amount of weapons and ammunition they have seized, as soldiers retake territory from the Tamil Tiger rebels.

On display at a pair of military bases in Kilinochchi - the rebel's de facto capital they recently abandoned - are impressive displays of weapons: artillery guns, mortars, 4,000 bombs, rows of assault rifles, more than 6,000 hand grenades, nearly 3,000 improvised explosive devices, armored vehicles and one tank.

The weaponry is a portion of what the Army says is an impressive armament, worth tens of millions of dollars, seized from fleeing cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

According to the Army, their troops have recovered 100,000 small arms, one-million rounds of ammunition and nearly 30,000 land mines.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, known as the LTTE, also organized a fledgling navy and air force.

It is all evidence of the sophisticated international weapons smuggling network that allowed the Tamil rebels to wage war for more than a quarter century against the Sinhalese-dominated military.

The commander of the 58th Division, Army Brigadier Shivendra Silva, says it is obvious the weapons came from many countries, but accurately identifying the sources is difficult.

"By the time it reaches LTTE, they remove all those things [identifying marks]. How can we tell that that particular country had sold it? It would have gone to another country, gone from somewhere else," said Silva. "You know how smuggling is taking place. So it's very unfair for us to point and tell one country's name."

Military officials say some of the LTTE's arsenal was manufactured or modified locally.

International arms analysts say the rebel arsenal originated in number of countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Greece, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, North Korea and Ukraine.

In its latest annual report on terrorism, the U.S. State Department, says the LTTE is funded, in part, through donations from Tamils living in North America, Europe and Australia. It says Tamil charitable organizations are used as fronts and funds collected are diverted to fight the Sri Lankan military and carry out acts of terrorism.

A military offensive has now reduced the LTTE to a sliver of land, less than five kilometers long, on the northeast coast (40 kilometers east of Kilinochchi).

A number of countries and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have called for a ceasefire by both sides to allow trapped civilians to escape. Estimates of the number of civilians in jeopardy range to 100,000.

In an interview with VOA News, Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona contends a ceasefire would primarily benefit a depleted enemy on the verge of defeat.

"Demanding a ceasefire, as some of the international community have, they are only prolonging this conflict for another unlimited period of time and also ensuring that the LTTE can recover, regroup and keep on fighting," said Kohona.

Rebel statements accuse the military of using heavy weapons, despite a pledge not to fire shells or bomb the area. The LTTE also claims that the civilians with them have begun dying of starvation because the government will not allow adequate donated food into the no-fire zone.

Sri Lanka accuses the rebels of holding the civilians as human shields. It terms its final military offensive here in the Northern Province the "world's largest hostage rescue mission."

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