Sri Lanka's newly appointed top military general said Tuesday his forces are ready to meet any threats from the Tamil Tigers, as an attack by the rebels in the country's north left six soldiers dead. A car carrying three Swiss nationals was also caught in the same attack, but none was hurt, the military and the Swiss Embassy said. "We are ready for any situation.....we have not dropped our guard," Maj. Gen. Sarath Fonseka told reporters after officially taking over his post. But he also cautioned that he will not fall prey to rebel provocation.
His comment came after the attack early Tuesday in the northern city of Jaffna, where the rebels operate, that killed six Sri Lankan soldiers, an army spokesman said. The rebel attack and the comments by the hawkish military commander could further strain the government's already uneasy cease-fire with the insurgents. Two of the three Swiss nationals work for the Swiss Agency For Development and Cooperation, which is engaged in post-tsunami work in Jaffna Peninsula. The other occupant was the wife of one of the men. Their names were not immediately available.
"The car was damaged, but no harm has come to people inside the vehicle," said Martin Sturzinger, a spokesman for the Swiss Embassy in Colombo.
The agency is part of the Swiss government's development arm and had been involved in post-tsunami development and school reconstruction in the peninsula, which was also hit by the Dec. 26 tsunami.
The Defense Ministry confirmed the incident. "The car was traveling near to the tractor in which our troops were in," said army spokesman Brig. Nalin Witharanagee. "The main thrust of the blast came to our soldiers, but the Swiss car was also badly damaged," Witharanagee said. "The occupants managed to crawl out of the vehicle," he said. In Colombo, Fonseka took office as Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim priests chanted hymns and prayed for his well-being.
"I have not lost a single battle, I hope to remain a challenge to any terrorist group or their activities," Fonseka, a battle-hardened soldier with 35 years in the infantry, told a news conference.
"Even now we can meet LTTE's (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) threat, but it is our bounden duty to further preserve the status quo with utmost patience and promote such prospects as an army without falling ourselves prey to provocative moves or other incited acts," he said of the 2002 cease-fire.
In Jaffna, 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Colombo, the soldiers, one officer and five enlisted men, "had done routine clearing operations of the area and were returning back on a tractor" then the land mine exploded, said army spokesman Brig. Nalin Witharanagee.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Witharanagee said the Tigers were behind the blast, caused by a Claymore mine that spits out hundreds of steel balls propelled by plastic explosives, reports the AP. I.L.