Over two thousand Sri Lankan Army (SLA) soldiers were killed and four thousand wounded in the battles of 2007, the commander of the SLA, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka told a conference at Army Headquarters last week, the Sunday Times reported. He claimed over five thousand Tamil Tigers were also killed last year. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government has forbidden military officials from giving interviews and launched a hunt for those leaking details to the media. The government has instructed ambulances transporting wounded soldiers from Ratmalana airport to hospitals in Colombo not to use their sirens, the paper said.
Lt. Gen. Fonseka was addressing Principal Staff Officers and Directors at Army Headquarters in a conference held every four months.
In the context of government anger over military officials leaking details of battlefield setbacks to the media, he told the 90-minute conference: `We have not given this [2007 casualty figures] to the media. If anyone present wants to give it, they are free to do so.`
The Army chief, who is under media criticism for inflating claims of military successes, also spoke on eradicating corruption and the need for discipline, the paper said.
Last month the Sri Lanka Army suffered a debacle when it attacked the LTTE s forward defence lines (FDLs) in Jaffna.
Whilst Lt. Gen. Fonseka claimed that 47 soldiers were killed and 126 were wounded, the Sunday Times said over a hundred soldiers were killed and 355 confirmed wounded.
The Sunday Times, which spoke to both officers and men in the north and in Colombo, said it had revealed what was gathered independently from reliable sources.
Other media reports, also quoting Sri Lankan military officials, put the toll at much higher. AFP news agency quoted military sources as saying at least 165 soldiers being killed and 20 more going missing.
The LTTE said 150 troops were killed in the day long clashes on April 23 and handed back the bodies of 28 soldiers.
Before the LTTE s handover, facilitated by the international Red Cross, Sri Lankan press reports said the bodies of 143 soldiers had been brought to three funeral parlours in and around Colombo.
Lt. Gen. Fonseka had told the conference at Army Headquarters that the casualties in Jaffna was not due to his fault: people who gave arms and ammunition to the Tigers should be blamed, he said.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times defence columnist, Iqbal Athas, this week said Army Headquarters sent out instructions this week to all installations forbidding personnel from taking part in radio programmes.
The government has launched a hunt for military officials who leak details to the media, but nonetheless, there are a vast number of officers and men who want the public to know the truth. They put themselves on the firing line to speak out in the national interest, Athas wrote.
Thus, for the media as well as the Sri Lankan public who see, hear and read them, the challenges are many. Do they report non-existent victory after victory where thousands of guerrillas have perished or tell the story to the public the way it happens? he wrote.
The former would make them celebrated heroes and the latter, unpatriotic villains or ` rapists of the truth` as they dub those who do not sing hosannas for them.
Meanwhile, another outcome of the Muhamalai debacle were the instructions sent out to ambulances bringing in casualties from the Ratmalana airport to hospitals in Colombo. They have been told to avoid the use of sirens, he said.
Wailing sirens have often been an indication to residents living along the route from the airport to hospitals to discern something had gone wrong in the battle areas.