COLOMBO: Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, who commanded the Sri Lankan army during Eelam War IV, says that it was the LTTE which targeted Tamil civilians and not the Lankan armed forces.
"It was the LTTE which fired on civilians trying to flee to the army-controlled lines and killed them.The Lankan armed forces on the other hand had a policy of welcoming them and providing them safe shelter," Fonseka told Express on Monday.
"We were constantly telling the civilians to come out, assuring them that they will be well treated and looked after. With the result, people kept coming out," he said.
According to Fonseka, hailed as a war hero at home and described as the world's best General by India's former National Security Advisor M.K.Narayanan, civilians had begun heeding the army's call from 2008 onwards.
"In the beginning, they came in trickles.Over time, 50,000 had crossed over. However, the mass exodus started in April 2009.On April 19, 150,000 had crossed over braving LTTE bullets.On May 14, 2009, 85,000 had quit the LTTE controlled zone. And on May 19, the war ended,with a total of nearly 300, 000 coming out." Fonseka said.
Lanka's only Field Marshal said that the army took a lot of casualties in the process of capturing areas where the LTTE was keeping thousands of civilians hostage to serve as its human shield.Heavy weapons had to be used sparingly.
Asked if earlier in the war, in 2008 and early 2009, serious efforts were made to get the civilians out of the LTTE' s clutches, Fonseka said that efforts were made whenever civilians were within firing range, but for much of the war, the LTTE had kept the civilians 4 to 5 kilometers away from the forward lines.The LTTE needed the civilians for being used as human shield when the chips are down, he said.
"When the civilians were 4 to 5 kms behind the front line, there was no way we could reach them to rescue them.And the LTTE had put so many obtacles such as 10 ft high earth bunds, pill boxes, ditches and landmines to stop us from advancing," Fonseka recalled.
"The civilians too are not fools.They move away from battle zones as far as possible," Fonseka said.
It was not the army but the LTTE which pushed thousands of civilians into a narrow strip of land abutting the sea at Mullivaikkal to use them as a bargaining chip, the Field Marshal said.