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Defence / Politics


Troops link up breached defences in Muhamalai

The outgoing Pakistani envoy has been instrumental in developing close military ties between the two nations. Bashir Wali Mohammed, himself a retired army colonel, had been a director of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau and is widely believed to be heavily involved in building a close relationship between the militaries of the two countries. He is to be soon replaced by another High Commissioner with a military background. It is widely expected that Wali will be succeeded by Air Vice Marshal Shahzad Chaudhary. The appointment is seen as another important step in the defence cooperation between the two countries.

Deep in the jungle, some 30 kilometres from the Mullaitivu town, under the thick forest cover is a sprawling complex of buildings at a place called Vallipunam in Puthukkudiyiruppu.
According to intelligence reports, Vellupillai Prabhakaran is learnt to visit this place for relaxation and to take his mind off vexing problems. There are three entry points to this building and a fourth from underground.
No one could carry weapons inside here and only Prabhakaran and two others are allowed the cyanide capsule.
Referring to Prabhakaran’s daily routine, the Asian Tribune in a website report 40 days before the incident said, “he ( Prabhakaran) visits Sencholai Girls’ Home and Kantharuban Boy’s Home – the orphanage which has a history of producing suicide bombers, mainly women suicide bombers.”
The LTTE propaganda consistently refers to the incident as the Sencholai air-strike. In the initial reports the Tigers had said it was an orphanage that was targeted.
Was Prabhakaran expected there that fateful Monday morning? If he arrived, the LTTE would have been in disarray.
But, according to intelligence, it was very possible that, on that day a decoy was sent. It is the practice to send such decoys for security reasons.
Defence authorities are also looking at the possibility of whether the whole exercise was staged by the LTTE to bring international condemnation upon the government after the Mavil Aru crisis that tainted the Tiger image.
They are also alive to the possibility that a mass-scale massacre of civilians by “indiscriminate” bombing by the Sri Lankan military would compel irate Tamils in rebel-held areas to join ranks in the “do-or-die” battle by the Tigers, even as civilians are targeted indiscriminately from above.
The week dawned with the 7:00 a.m. bombings at, Mullaitivu on Monday. They brought in its wake much confusion. More confusion followed with a claymore mine in Colombo only hours later.
The target appears to be the bone of contention in both cases.
In the first, the Air Force has maintained throughout that it took on an identified LTTE target. The Government later stressed that the site was a military training camp. The LTTE called it a civilian facility while the UNICEF and SLMM maintained that there appeared to be no military installations in the area.
The truth lies in between. While it is not a military training camp, it certainly is not a civilian facility. Why should you have a civilian facility in thick jungle? How does one account for a decrease in death toll?
A total of 600 students were taken from several schools in Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi probably with the consent of the principals and parents, but without formal clearance of the education authorities. There was choice and consent, but that was within a terrorised society.
The LTTE maintained that it was a residential “first aid” camp but the question that is being asked is why conduct such a seemingly innocent exercise in thick jungle arousing suspicion? This could have been conducted in one of the schools itself that would have been spared.
The military would never have targeted the Mullaitivu town where there is a mass concentration of civilians. Surely, those conducting the first aid classes- whether civilians or Tigers- could have come to Tiger-held Mullaitivu town. Since children were drawn from many schools in Kilinochchi and Mullativu, it would have been easier to conduct them there.
As the student wing of the LTTE was involved in conducting this “first aid” exercise it makes it tainted. The health authorities and the medics should have been roped into conduct this first aid exercise.
In as much as the Government Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella appeared insensitive in his description that age and sex did not matter, the LTTE also tried to make out that this was an orphanage not realising that that story could not hold for long.
Why should an orphanage be in a thick jungle and why should there be buildings under such a canopy unless they are Tiger shelters?
The pictures taken by the Air Force depict armed guerillas running helter-skelter but that does not make it a military installation, as they could have been reacting to the tragedy, trying to remove the wounded to hospital. Pictures taken before and after the incident were also shown on state television. The date of these pictures must be verified.
While confusion reigned for a week whether those killed were civilian students or female Tiger cadres, it has now being clarified that they were regular students from state-funded schools summoned for this first aid training camp. But, nevertheless they are mature students who made a choice or were forced to do so, to enter dangerous territory within LTTE-controlled Mullaitivu. They may even have been misled.
Both in aerial bombings and more so in suicide bombings, however precise one may try to be in taking on identified targets, civilians could be killed and injured. This cannot be washed away as collateral damage.
The war has been hotting up in the Jaffna peninsula and all the other mini-wars are diversionary. We will return to the war for Jaffna shortly, but suffice to say that early in the day, the army has taken recourse to the Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers brought down from Pakistan.
The destruction unleashed by the MBRLs and the fact that Pakistan has entertained a second military list from Sri Lanka may be reason to target the outgoing High Commissioner Bashir Wali Mohamed, who only last week had assured Army Commander Sarath Fonseka of more support. We mentioned this in these very columns last week.
The day chosen for the attack was very significant. It was Pakistan National Day. So there was also a diplomatic message sent to Pakistan through the violent attack. High Commissioner Bashir Wali Mohamed was driven from his official residence at the Wijerama Mawatha- Horton Place intersection to his office at De Saram Place. After the flag-hoisting ceremony, he went back to his residence as it was a holiday. After prayers, Mr. Mohamed, his wife and daughter got dressed up to attend a lunch at the Galadari Hotel which he was hosting for the Pakistani community. It was their national day as well as his farewell as he was scheduled to leave after a two-year stint.
The convoy left the residence at 1:00 p.m. His daughter had got into a separate car. Mr. Mohamed got off his vehicle and spoke to her and in deference to her father’s wishes, she joined her parents. All three sat in the rear seat of the Benz. The convoy passed St. Bridget’s Convent and then the Lionel Wendt route and got onto Flower Road before it turned off at the Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha passing the CWC office.
Just as the vehicle was passing Unity Place, the backup Defender swerved as if to overtake the High Commissioner’s vehicle to protect it from the side. The claymore mine, packed in a three-wheeler which was parked on Unity Place its back facing Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, was activated by remote control at 1:00 p.m. High Commissioner Mohamed said he saw a flash but was keen on proceeding, but his security guard in the vehicle said it was better to turn back as there could be more trouble ahead. They were to take the Liberty Plaza round about and hit the Galle Road to reach the hotel. The back up Defender vehicle that was caught in the blast hit the Benz, shattering the rear windscreen. Of the seven who died in the blast, were four elite Commandos entrusted with providing security to VIPs. Adjacent parked vehicles belonging to N-Car Travels also caught the blast. The outgoing High Commissioner, who had a narrow shave, sympathised with the wives of the brave Commandos who intercepted his vehicle. He also visited the hospital to see the injured, even though he himself was in a state of shock.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was immediately informed of the incident, contacted the High Commissioner at his residence. High Commissioner Mohamed who said nothing had happened to him except for some minor injuries, added that Pakistan would not be deterred by these sort of attacks. President Rajapaksa assured him of providing greater security and also called up Pakistan President General Pervez Musharaff. This was the third time an attempt was made on the life of Mr. Wali Mohamed; the two previous incidents in his own country. This was the first time a diplomat and a High Commissioner was targeted in Sri Lanka. Mr. Mohamed was pretty much the target according to sleuths even though some claimed the target could have been Minister Douglas Devanda and yet others felt it was aimed at Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
Among his visitors were former Minister and presently presidential advisor on parliamentary affairs, A.H.M. Azwer and Western Province Governor Alawi Maulana who walked in around 3:30 p.m. Azwer said, “God saved you” to which Mr. Mohamed pulled out a talisman he was wearing around his neck and showed it, responding, “Almighty God saved me.” The talisman was a miniature version of the Holy Quran.
Azwer also remarked, “Your entry was a sensation and so is your exit.” There was opposition to Mr. Wali Mohamed’s appointment as High Commissioner as he was supposed to be a member of the Pakistan’s Inter-services Intelligence (ISI).
Mr. Mohamed has been replaced by a top retired Air Force officer but the two governments that have to simultaneously make the formal announcement have deferred it.
Immediately after the attack, there were many questions asked in military and diplomatic circles as to the motive behind such an attack. Some had suggested that this was a case of mistaken identity with the LTTE, having wanted to target a military convoy, rather than a diplomat. However this scenario is highly unlikely since the diplomat’s car is easily recognisable with its flag and unique number plates.
The LTTE would have wanted to give a clear message to the Pakistan government regarding their involvement in the Sri Lankan conflict. Pakistan has been providing military equipment to Sri Lanka for a long time. It is the prompt response of the Pakistanis at a crucial time in 2000 that saved the Jaffna peninsula from falling to the LTTE. Even after the fall of Elephant Pass, India could only offer “humanitarian assistance.” In other words India was willing to help the Sri Lankan military evacuate 40,000 soldiers from the peninsula, but was not prepared to give any other military assistance. The timely arrival of Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers from both Pakistan and the Czech Republic was decisive in repulsing the LTTE advance in the northern peninsula six years ago.
The outgoing Pakistani envoy has been instrumental in developing close military ties between the two nations. Bashir Wali Mohammed, himself a retired army colonel, had been a director of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau and is widely believed to be heavily involved in building a close relationship between the militaries of the two countries. He is to be soon replaced by another High Commissioner with a military background. It is widely expected that Wali will be succeeded by Air Vice Marshal Shahzad Chaudhary. The appointment is seen as another important step in the defence cooperation between the two countries. The Sri Lankan military recently asked for spare parts for its ageing T-55 main battle tanks and C-130 Hercules aircraft from Pakistan. The Air Force also was assisted by the Pakistanis who carried out a complete overhaul of the F7 fighter jets. These jets which are jointly manufactured by China and Pakistan, along with F6 have been widely used by the Sri Lanka Air Force to train its fighter pilots.
The Nation reliably learns that a top Pakistani military officer was in the country recently. He had come via the Maldives without declaring his military credentials. However it was later learnt that he was closely watched by the LTTE while in Colombo and was even followed on several occasions. These developing ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka are becoming a headache to the LTTE on another front. It is now known that a Muslim group operates in the east which has been linked to disappearances of several Tamil youth. The Jihad group which models itself on Hamas and Hezbollah are actively involved in humanitarian work in Muslim dominated areas. However they are also believed to be working closely with the Sri Lankan military in neutralising some LTTE threats.
During the LTTE’s recent siege on Muttur young armed Tigers were seeing identifying military spies and hoarding them into a vehicle. Their fate is yet unknown. Tamils who fled the Muttur area after the recent violence are now being prevented by the Muslims from returning to the area in an ethnic cleansing similar to the one practised by the LTTE in the north. The East could become a flashpoint for further ethnic violence between these two communities unless the authorities check these developments.
Another dimension of the attack on the Pakistani envoy could be the LTTE’s hopes to draw a wedge between India and Sri Lanka. The former has been wary of Sri Lanka’s developing close relationship with China and Pakistan. The LTTE calculation might be to draw Pakistan and Sri Lanka near on defence matters which would ensure the straining of relations between India and her southern neighbour.
Even as confusion reigns this week over the targets in the Monday’s bombings in Mullaitivu and the claymore mine blast in Colombo, the Tigers since last week were hell bent on breaking into Jaffna.
Last Friday (11), just as the Muhamalai barrier was about to be closed around 5:00 p.m. the Tigers stormed the place in a bus and abducted nearly 20 soldiers whose fate is yet not known. The Commandant Ehela Malpe of the Muhamalai camp who spent some anxious moments being lost in the area finally surfaced at another army camp. There has been constant fighting throughout the week near the forward defence lines near Muhamalai and Nagarkovil. There are heavy losses on both sides, as the soldiers were trying to re-link with the camp. According to reports reaching Colombo, the LTTE is taking on the security forces from both the southern flank as well as from the peninsula. We have warned at least twice in these columns of a possible Fifth Column from among the infiltrations rising from within the peninsula to take on the forces battling at the FDLs. Israeli built Kfirs were employed in the bombing of Tigers in the Jaffna peninsula. Despite the early setback at Muhamalai the forces have fought hard to push back the Tigers. The security forces have noticed that despite the high casualty rate, the Tigers are sending more and more fighters reminiscent of the Operation Unceasing Waves in 2000. The Defence authorities are alive to the Tiger strategy of resorting to several alternate plans and back up plans and in this backdrop are expecting a possible attack even from Weli Oya, Vavuniya and Mannar or South of Trincomalee.
Even as ground troops are sent to the FDLs, they are expecting a possible sea landing from the other side of the peninsula.
Meanwhile, security sources said two Tamil Tigers were killed in an ambush at Kallikai, Jaffna on Friday (18). The group of armed Tamil Tigers was moving in the dark on a secret mission when soldiers confronted them, killing two. Later, troops found two LTTE dead bodies, one T 56 weapon with two filled magazine, one pistol with one filled magazines, one hand grenade, one radio set, one compass, two cyanide capsules, one carrying bag, one identity card and Rs. 2150.00.
A local curfew that was in force at Vadamarachchi and Walikamam in Jaffna had been relaxed for a few hours on Friday. According to security forces, troops had recovered 98 dead bodies of LTTE cadres who were killed by troops during confrontations in Kilaly, Jaffna on Wednesday (16).
About 30 to 40 LTTE sea tiger boats were destroyed as they reached the Kilaly lagoon. Tamil Tigers had directed heavy volumes of both direct and indirect fire on FDL positions in Kilaly on Wednesday (16). Heavy concentration of LTTE fire followed a ground attack in considerable strength, it was reported.

***

“We are consolidating”

By Dharisha Bastians
Army Commander Lt. General Sarath Fonseka spoke to The Nation about the ongoing confrontations between government forces and the LTTE in the north and east and the battle to capture the Mavil Aru anicut, the key point in what appears to have quickly spiralled into Eelam War IV.
What is the army’s position in the north at this stage?
We had fallen back about 300 metres in a certain area of Muhamalai. By Friday morning, we had gone back and occupied the same lines. On Wednesday night the army launched a successful operation to recapture these lines and we estimate that about 150 LTTE cadres were killed in that attack, while the army lost only seven soldiers. We are now consolidating the recaptured lines in the area. We recovered about 70 bodies of LTTE cadres and soldiers on the ground say they are seeing about 150 more strewn in the area.
What do you put the total LTTE losses at, as a result of the confrontations in the north?
For the army there have not been massive losses as in the case of the Mankulam or EPS operations, but we think that in all the LTTE has lost about 600 cadres in all. In any case for sure, they have lost between 150-300 cadres and about 1000 have been injured. They have tried to remove some of the bodies, by taking about 50-60 away at a time, but many of their dead are still lying around.
Is there a military offensive to recapture Pooneryn?
We have been firing at their artillery positions in Pooneryn from time to time because the LTTE is attacking the Palaly airbase runway from that area. We think we have destroyed a few of their guns in the area.
Has there been any damage to the runway as a result of these attacks?
The damage has been negligible. It has been odd firing of artillery mostly.
What about operations in Sampur?
We are taking out their bases in Sampur. As far as we are concerned, their presence in Sampur is unacceptable because of the threat it poses to the Trincomalee harbour. So we will continue operations in Sampur until their positions are destroyed.
Has the Mavil Aru anicut been secured now?
We have completed the march to the area and the army is now preparing defences in the area. There is a need to clear the area of mines at the moment which should be completed within the next few days.