Defence / News Features

October: War or Peace?

Hardly an hour after sunset that ushered in a new weekend, around 6:40 p.m. Friday, the Tigers began firing mortars in the direction of on the western side of Black Bridge on the Batticaloa- Maha Oya Road. Two soldiers and a civilian were killed.
But the real target of the Tigers was elsewhere and the Black Bridge attack was a diversionary tactic to distract the security forces.
They planned to stage an attack on Pillumalai on the Chenkaladi – Maha Oya Road the next day. In fact the Special Task Force (STF) camp in Pillumalai was set up to protect the Sinhala villages- Tempitiya and Kosgolla- that borders the Batticaloa and Ampara Districts in the Maha Oya area. Sandwiching these two villages are more Tamil villages including the Pulaweli village. In the past few days, the area had been subject to mortar fire twice by the LTTE.
Two weeks back, according to intelligence reports, the LTTE was planning to attack the Pillumalai and the Nugelanda STF camps and Sinhala villages. Commandant STF, DIG Nimal Lewke had subsequently ordered that these camps be placed on maximum alert.
In the run up to the North-East monsoon, this is cultivation season during which time villagers are busy irrigating their fields. As there was information that the Tigers would possibly launch an attack on civilians, a plan was drawn up by the STF to pre-empt the Tigers.
More than two dozen Tigers were dispatched from the main LTTE Karadiyanaryu camp, not along the main road but crisscrossing through the Rukam tank area. The Tigers were planning to take on civilians expecting the forces to withdraw at first light.
The STF had changed its regular pattern and, instead of getting back to the camp, hid and ambushed the Tigers. The ambush patrol had given a false signal that provoked an LTTE attack in a big way. This was followed by a strong retaliation by the STF patrol killing 13 Tigers and injuring eight others (two critically wounded) according to communication intercepts.
Following a cordon and search operation, there was indication that the Tigers had dragged some of the dead bodies and injured cadres away from the site of the incident.
The STF also recovered 11 T-56 automatic weapons, two radio sets, 40 Johnny mines, and 36 round of ammunition. The STF had informed both the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) as well as the ICRC to enable the handing over of the 12 Tiger bodies.
All the major attacks in the past few weeks in September happened over the weekend as the Tigers are generally aware that the weekends are set aside for mustering. The forces have been changing their timetables and springing surprises on the Tigers.
Last Sunday was no exception. The elite Sea Borne Squadron of the Sri Lanka Navy on patrol in the seas off Mullaitivu detected a cluster of Sea Tiger craft (approximately 25) launching from Alampil in the Mullaitivu area and heading towards Trincomalee around 9.45 p.m.
When the enemy boat cluster was off Pulmodai, Fast Attack Craft took the initiative to engage and cut off Sea Tiger boats moving further southward according to the Defence Ministry. Reinforcements were rushed to the area from the Northern and Eastern Naval Commands.
During a fierce sea battle which lasted nearly five hours, the Navy’s FACs destroyed 11 craft and damaged another five which along with nine others withdrew only around 3:00 a.m. on Monday (25). One SLN craft was damaged and five sailors injured while the Navy claims 70 Sea Tigers were killed. The Navy has pulled off yet another success and according to LTTE communication intercepts, this Sea battle was commanded by the third in command of the Sea Tiger wing ‘SELIYAN’ and his boat was among those which were badly damaged in the confrontation. The Sea Tiger high command was desperate to bring back the third in command but feared he was seriously injured or killed as he never communicated after the two Sea Tiger craft caught fire initially, the Defence Ministry maintained.
The Navy believes that the Tigers were desperate to send troops and logistics to the Vakarai / Verugal area and it is believed they are planning to stage an attack from that area to recapture the Sampur area which it lost to the military last month.
The security forces have the backing of the international community to thwart terrorism. US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the UN general assembly sessions had an encouraging word for Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
“Terrorism is unacceptable in any part of the world, be it in Sri Lanka or in the United States, and the US administration will take all steps to counter and eradicate the threat of terrorism,” said Secretary Rice.
The September 11 Twin Towers attack remains unparalleled in terms of destruction hatched by humans, unleashed by humans on humans. It was the defining moment that brought upon the world the ‘war on terrorism.’ Terrorism and counterterrorism has only resulted in human misery in all quarters of the world.
Three years prior to the New York attack, on September 11, 1998 the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) exploded a powerful bomb that ripped through the Jaffna Municipal Council Building claiming the lives of 13, including the peninsula’s city father, the highest ranking army officer and the senior most police officer in Jaffna.
Jaffna Mayor Pon. Sivapalan, Jaffna Brigade Commander Brigadier Susantha Mendis, SSP Jaffna Chandra Adikari and HQI Mohandas were all killed in one blast that injured dozens of civilians.
Friday before last, on September 22, a powerful claymore mine weighing 10 kilograms and a suicide kit to be used for a similar attack was detected in transit at the Medawachchiya Police check point. The explosives packed in a box were concealed in a van coming down to Colombo. A parcel of mutton was placed near it to prevent the police sniffer dogs from detecting the explosives, but to no avail. The globe shaped claymore mine which looked like an electric bulb was to be fitted to the ceiling of a building where a VIP was scheduled to attend a meeting.
Investigations led to the arrest of a Police Constable of the Ministerial Security Division (MSD) who is alleged to have links with the LTTE. Sleuths recovered a haul of arms and ammunition from a house in Wattala. Security forces are alive to the possibility of the LTTE attempting to assassinate a VIP in Colombo or to launch an attack on a defence or economic nerve centre. Out of desperation, a totally civilian target could be taken and according to intelligence reports, ambulances, garbage trucks or passenger buses could be used to perpetrate attacks in the city.
The possibility of a major attack stems from the argument that the LTTE will not want to come to the negotiating table from a position of weakness.
With September done with, the month of October has dawned. Will there be talks in October as proposed by the Co-Chairs? The proposal is part of the strategy to prevent a full scale war. While the security forces are upbeat after their recent successes, the Tigers are awaiting the North East monsoon to have an edge over the forces. The use of battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers are near impossible while the weather conditions affects ground troops, air support and naval warfare. With both sides raring to go, the Co-chairs were keen on fixing talks in early October.
Norwegian Minister for International Development Erik Solheim was expected to meet LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran this week. But he was forced to cancel his visit as Prabhakaran has said he would not be available. According to information, it is believed that Prabhakaran now fears for his safety after the recent air raids on Pudukuduiruppu in Mullaitivu by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF). Prabhakaran has both an outer perimeter as well as an inner perimeter to ensure his security. According to reports reaching Colombo, the bombs had fallen within a security perimeter. This has truly shaken Prabhakaran who was likely to make major changes after this attack.
SLAF fighters destroyed two LTTE strong holds at Pudukuduiruppu in Mullaitivu on Wednesday. The Media Center for National Security (MCNS) says that the air raids conducted in the morning hours on September 27 have successfully destroyed an LTTE training base and a Transit camp, causing heavy damages to the terrorists.
“The government of Sri Lanka has expressed its sincere commitment and the readiness to restart peace talks with the LTTE on an assurance given by the LTTE leadership stating Prabhakaran’s true commitment to peace,” MCNS said.
But the initial euphoria over the statement by Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella on Wednesday (27) that Prabhakaran had replied through the facilitators even though in a different form, died by the end of the week.
Rambukwella yesterday was quoted as saying that the government was aware that Prabhakaran was taking security precautions and may not meet the Norwegian facilitators. He however had noted that such a position did not deter Prabhakaran from writing to the government intimating his agreement to hold peace talks.
Given the number of occasions successive governments had been taken for a ride, the current administration was not willing to take things for granted and hence was demanding a written commitment from Prabhakaran.
With Rajapaksa the ‘pragmatist’ and ‘realist’, Prabhakaran is getting a good dose of war and peace. Internationally, key countries are supporting him to the hilt.
President Rajapaksa met Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Non-aligned Movement Conference in Havana, Cuba. While the Indian Premier admitted that terrorism was a problem but insisted there is an ethnic problem that needs to be resolved politically. He said that given the gravity of the Tamil Nadu issue, weapons and equipment cannot be given, training cannot be afforded to Sri Lankan military personnel but one thing could be done - providing intelligence.
This is exactly what the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) did a Sunday before last. It provided intelligence of Tiger activity in a foreign country. The Navy waited patiently for the Tiger vessel that was bringing in arms and hovering in the international waters for a while before entering the exclusive economic zone. The Navy spotted the vessel on Sunday morning off Kalmunai.
Last Sunday, this time in the night, the Navy again spotted a flotilla of Tiger boats off Pulmodai in the Trincomalee area. Intelligence sharing between the two countries is crucial and this time too it came in handy.
What India declined to do - provide- weapons and ammunition- China and Pakistan have readily agreed to. In fact China was even willing to send a complete radar system to face the challenges posed by LTTE light aircraft. Getting wind of this, India promptly provided the air force with this radar system. This is reminiscent of the Ranil Wickremesinghe period where India was able to stall the US ACSA (Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement) with the promise of a defence cooperation agreement between the two countries.
Even as India has declined to help Sri Lanka with military training for its officers, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Dominick Chilcott on Wednesday said he hoped the Royal College of Defence Studies shall “be able to keep that friendship with the RCDS fresh and vital by making available to Sri Lanka places at the college in future years.”
This is after a successful meeting between President Rajapaksa and British Prime Minister Tony Blair this month in London. Consider the statement made by High Commissioner Chilcott to mark the Queen’s Birthday prior to the UK meeting. Chilcott was very critical of the Sri Lankan forces at that time.
The UK High Commissioner on Wednesday was speaking at a ceremony at Westminster House to welcome the RCDS team led by Rear Admiral Mark Bonser. The RCDS, which studies international security and international affairs at a strategic level, is a component of the United Kingdom’s National Defence Academy.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation Rear Admiral Bonser said from what he could fathom, the Sri Lankan military officers were very disciplined and of high calibre. He said a return to Sri Lanka after three years has helped as the country offered a valuable study in the peace process that has been internationalised since 2002 and the Cease-fire has held despite violations. Having praised Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, an alumni of the RCDS, Bonser said he was impressed by the sentiments expressed by Kumar Rupesinghe and his work at the Foundation for Co-Existence. Rear Admiral Bonser said Sri Lanka is at an important crossroads and to develop trade it had at its disposal one of the finest harbours in the world. He said if there is greater stability Trinco could also be very productive.
The visiting team accompanied by Chilcott, and Defence Advisor, Lt. Colonel Colin Martin, met President Rajapaksa on Thursday at President’s House and discussed the current political situation in Sri Lanka, a press release by the High Commission stated.
The RCDS team, on a week long visit to Sri Lanka, met political, academic and business leaders, as part of a South Asia tour that includes Pakistan and India. There are 75 members on the current course - 29 from the UK and 46 from a wide range of overseas countries, representing 42 nationalities in total.
On Sunday and Monday, the team visited Kalatura and a tsunami reconstruction project being funded by the UK company Marks and Spencers. They also undertook a tour of Galle Port conducted by Chairman, Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Saliya Wickramasuriya and Commander of Southern Naval Area Rear Admiral Ananda Peiris and Capt. Athula Hewavitharana, Deputy Harbour Master Galle. They visited the eastern Galle suburb of Katugoda and toured tsunami areas and projects with the NGO Project Galle 2006.
They undertook a tour of Galle Fort conducted by Brigadier Jagath Wijetileke, Commander Security Forces Galle and also visited the Koggala free trade zone with Mr Dineal Peris, the CEO of UNICHELA garment factory. On Wednesday they visited Puttlam. “The main purpose of the visit is to examine at first hand the current position and future prospects for the preservation and enhancement of the security, stability and prosperity of Sri Lanka,” said High Commissioner Chilcott.
The United Nations Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery has urged the Government and the LTTE to “cease hostilities and return to negotiations.” Whether the month of October would force the parties back to the negotiating table or to all out war, only time will tell.


More LTTE missile seekers arrested in US

By Mendaka Abeysekera in New York
Anti LTTE camp in the US has decided to hold a demonstration and protest rally to expose LTTE activities and to protest against brutal killings, ethnic cleansing and forcible recruitment of children by Sri Lanka’s separatist Tamil Tigers.
The demonstration will be held on Wednesday, 4th October, 2006 between 11 am and 2 pm at the Lafayette Park opposite the White House, the official residence of U.S. President George W. Bush, in Washington, D.C.
This demonstration and protest rally is organized by the Sri Lankan community in Greater Washington area.
Meanwhile six men were arrested Thursday and Friday in Guam,Maryland in the US, who tried to buy missiles and other weapons for LTTE through undercover agents in Maryland.
The main suspect is Haji Subandi, an international arms dealer from Indonesia. Among these six men Thirunavukarasu Varatharasa, is the only Sri Lankan charged with being part of the conspiracy.
U.S.Attorney Rod Rosenstein disclosed to media that
they had a plan to ship these weapons from Guam to
members of the Tamil Tigers in the Indian Ocean, where
they would then be used for their terrorist purposes.
Last month, FBI officials in New York arrested eight
LTTE supporters for conspiring to buy surface-to-air
missiles in the United States.


Killings: Propaganda war heats up

The only eye witness of the Pottuvil massacre which took place on 17 September, Meera Mohideen talking to journalists claimed that the atrocity was carried out by the LTTE. He was admitted to the Ampara hospital with severe wounds to his neck on the 18th after being found injured at a construction site in the Sastrawela area off Pottuvil. The Special Task Force of the Police was initially accused by local people and several politicians for carrying out the crime. As a result of this agitation the officer in charge of the Sastrawela STF camp was transferred by Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando. The survivor making a statement from the Intensive care unit of the Ampara hospital says that around five or six individuals with guns had kidnapped him and his 10 colleagues around 6.30 in the evening. Though they were blindfolded they were told by their captors that no harm will come to them. Mohideen says that his captors spoke fluent Tamil and said that they were awaiting orders from a senior a leader. In the early hours of next morning all the captives except Mohideen were massacred by slitting their throats. Mohideen survived by pretending to be dead after receiving a wound to his neck. Last week The Nation reported from Pottuvil that the survivor on admission to the Pottuvil hospital had told the doctor there that the killers spoke fluent Tamil. In his recent statement too he has mentioned that the assailants spoke Tamil throughout the period of their detention.
Though the CID investigation in to the massacre has not yet concluded and all possibilities are still being looked in to, the important question now is why was the STF accused of the crime at such an initial stage? Within hours of the incident Pottuvil residents accused the STF and one officer in particular for carrying out the crime. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rahuf Hakeem also expressed similar sentiments.
Another factor which has come to light after the statement from the survivor is the chilling similarity between the crime that took place at Pottuvil and the massacre at Weikanda on May 29 this year. On that day 12 labourers also working at an irrigation project were killed with their hands tied. More disturbing is the similarity in the story told by the only survivor of that incident when he claimed that the 13 men were blindfolded and kept for several hours under guard being told that the captors are awaiting orders. After several hours of captivity they were gunned down presumably after receiving orders to do so.
The investigation in to the Pottuvil massacre with the details provided with the survivor is now indicating that the atrocity was carried out in a planned manner. Though it is too early in the investigation to judge as to who carried out this crime with the comparison of other such crimes in the recent past a pattern is emerging which suggests that some of these brutal acts may have been carried out to embarrass the government at crucial junctures. The Weikanda massacre took place at a time the European Union decided to ban the LTTE. The recent massacre at Pottuvil occurred when President Rajapaksa was attending the Non Aligned Movement summit in Havana, Cuba. The President later went on to New York to attend the Annual Session of the United Nations General Assembly where he met several world leaders. Also on the 3rd of May when Sri Lanka was hosting the World Press Freedom Day celebrations two Tamil journalist from a pro LTTE news paper were killed in Jaffna. That incident was also initially blamed on a political party affiliated to the government. Even though the investigation in to the latest killing of innocents is yet to make a conclusive judgement it is clear that the government and the security forces need to be aware of the LTTE’s ploy to disrepute the state on the international arena.