President appointes battle-hardened commander to lead Sri Lanka's military

President Mahinda Rajapakse appointed a battle-hardened commander to lead Sri Lanka's military on Friday, just days after Tamil rebels threatened to resume a violent separatist campaign if their demands are not met. Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka will take charge of the 120,000-strong armed forces on Tuesday, said military spokesman Brig. Nalin Witharanagee.

Rajapakse selected Fonseka because of his strong military record, said other military officials who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly. Fonseka, who joined the army in June 1971, took part in many major military operations against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam before a cease-fire was signed in 2002, and has undergone training in the U.S., Britain, India and Pakistan.

"He is more of hawk than a dove and it is very likely that if there is an outbreak of war, he is the right person to do military operations successfully," said retired Air Marshall Harry Goonetilleke.

On Sunday, Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran warned that he would step up the violent struggle for an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka's north and east next year if the grievances of minority ethnic Tamils are not addressed.

Rajapakse has said his government is committed to ending all violence in the country and resuming the stalled peace process. But he has rejected the rebels' core demand for an autonomous Tamil homeland in the northeast. The Tamil Tiger rebels began fighting in 1983 for a separate Tamil state, claiming discrimination by the island's majority Sinhalese. About 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before the cease-fire. Subsequent peace talks have been stalled since 2003, reports the AP. I.L.

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