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Defence / News Features



READY TO POUNCE

The JVP it appears is hell bent on exerting pressure on the Rajapaksa administration making various demands from time to time since Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ascension to the presidency. The latest among this is their call to negate the Cease Fire Agreement signed between the government and the LTTE five years ago. It was on February 22, 2002 that the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the CFA with the LTTE under the auspices of the Norwegian facilitators. Accordingly the fifth anniversary of the CFA falls on Thursday this week. Under that circumstance, the sathyagraha undertaken by the pro-JVP National Bikkhu Front to force the government to call off the CFA is likely to continue till Thursday and Colombo has come under a tight security cordon to prevent untoward incidents such as mass rampaging on Colombo streets and an imminent attack by the LTTE.
How the LTTE would mark this anniversary is only known to LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and those detailed to carry out his orders.
The government and the LTTE have been fighting an undeclared Eelam War IV despite the CFA since July 28 last year, eight days after the Tigers closed the Mawil Aru sluice gates.
It was on July 23, 1983 that Eelam War I commenced with the killing of 13 soldiers at Thirunalweli, Jaffna. This action led to the worst ever anti-Tamil riots and a bitter war that will be 25 years next year when the country celebrates the diamond jubilee of independence.

LTTE piling up arms
It was in this same place Thirunalweli, that the army on Tuesday discovered 690 kilos of C-4 (Plastic) explosives packed in some 30 boxes with detonators fixed. These were ready to be exploded. Did the LTTE target the fifth anniversary of the CFA to commence a declared war?
On receiving a tip off from a civilian, these explosives, hidden in an abandoned house down Shivam Kovil Road Thirunalweli, in the Jaffna city were unearthed.
To unearth these explosives, a major operation was staged by a team that included an Engineering Unit, Bomb Disposal Unit, a group of Special Forces, and personnel from the Sri Lanka National Guard.
Arriving in several jeeps two hours after the curfew came into force, the team surrounded the premises, but was extra cautious before entering, as it was not too long ago that several battle-hardened officers were killed in a booby trap during the Vakarai operation.
Using night vision equipment, the team first observed whether there were occupants in the house. After clearing their doubts, several hours later the team entered the premises.
Firstly, the engineering unit entered along with the bomb disposal squad. Using sophisticated equipment, they clearly checked whether the house was been booby trapped.
They then entered the abandoned house and went straight to the second room according to the information provided and found it to be accurate. In between two walls that were built up to the roof, a massive haul of C-4 explosives were found in a number of boxes. They had to literally pull down the wall little by little to unearth the entire stock of 30 odd boxes containing 690 kilos of plastic explosives.
Sleuths are trying to establish whether the LTTE had planned to use them one by one or many together for greater impact.
One could get an idea of the quantity of the explosives and the possible damage these explosives could have caused from the quantity used in the biggest-ever bomb blast in Sri Lanka. In the January 31, 1996 Central Bank bombing, 200 kilos of high explosives were used.
The biggest-ever haul of explosives was found on Tuesday while the next day again in the Jaffna peninsula at Kodikaman, the LTTE successfully targeted a group of top army officers and other rankers on their way to a conference. It has been revealed that the Tigers are using satellite phones inside the Jaffna peninsula to communicate with Tiger-held areas as mobile phone towers are often switched off. This week it was switched off when Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe visited the peninsula. The Kodikamam area came under LTTE fire from 130 mm artillery guns from possibly Pallai and Pooneryn.
Lance Corporal K. Roshan was killed and ten senior officials including Brigade Commander of 531 Brigade in Jaffna, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Nugera from Ceylon Light Infantry (CLI) were injured in the attack. Eleven other rankers were injured. The other officers injured included Lt. Col. S.M.S.B. Attapattu, Major R.U.A.C. Guneratne (Ordnance Corps), Major W.H.K. Perera (Gajaba regiment) and Major B.K.M.G.M.C. Rodrigo (Artillery).
Nugera, a battle-hardened officer with several medals to his credit including a Weera Wickrema Vibushana (WWV), a Ranaweera Wickrema Padakkama (RWP) and a Ratna Suriya Padakkama (RSP) was the most seriously injured and after initial surgery at Palaly he was transferred to the Army Hospital where he is receiving treatment. Army Commander Lieutenant General Fonseka visited these officers at the Hospital.
The attack is similar to the artillery attack staged by the Tigers when a group of journalists who were taken on a guided tour of Muhamalai several months ago after the Security Forces successfully thwarted a battle staged by the Tigers.
Just as the Armoured Personnel Carrier carrying the journalists came to a halt, artillery fire rained in that direction and a security force personnel on guard had his head blown off. Senpathi gave a vivid description of that attack.
The injured Lt. Col. Nugera headed the Mack Infantry, a new brigade that was introduced to minimize security force casualties and maximize enemy victims. Those in the Mack Infantry are afforded specialized training. There are unique features in the Armoured Personnel Carriers used by the Mack Infantry which we cannot disclose for security reasons.
Replacing Lt. Col Nugera as the Brigade Commander for the 531 Brigade is Shantha Dissanayaka from Gajaba Regiment who returned after an overseas course. Jaffna City Brigade Commander Lt. Col. Athula Kodipilly will replace 533 Brigade Commander Charlie Gallage who took over as Brigade Commander of the Commandos. Lt. Col. Ruwan Wanigasuriya from the artillery regiment who was positioned at Vavuniya will take over the crucial 512 Brigade.
Given the recent postures by the two sides, the 512 Jaffna Brigade will be called upon to play an important role in the second innings of this latest phase of Eelam War.
51, 52, 53 and 55 divisions are important in the second innings for which dedicated and battle-hardened officers are selected.
The Brigade Commanders have been handpicked by the Army Commander himself. This selection has been based on his own evaluation when he led the battle as a Brigade Commander, Divisional Commander and later Security Forces Commander in operational areas.
All newly selected Brigade Commanders were captains or majors in rank and some commanding officers at the time Gen Fonseka commanded troops on the battle ground. General Fonseka is learnt to be happy with their dedication, commitment, strategy, tactics and fighting capabilities. The commander adopted a special scheme to supervise the officers of these ranks and to help him evaluate their performance.
It was as far back as December 24, last year that Senpathi predicted in this column titled Army Revamped that Major General Lawrence Fernando was very likely to be appointed as the Chief of Staff.
The security forces retaliated the LTTE attacks at Kodikaman with heavy weapons and on Friday Sri Lanka Air Force fighter jets pounded LTTE mortar positions at Sorampattu in Pallai and targeted a Sea Tiger base at Chenmalai, in Mullaitivu District .

Military turning on the heat
Meanwhile the army launched a massive Multi Barrel Rocket attack from the Welioya region on Friday few hours after the air strikes in Muhamalai. The military’s strategy seems to keep the Tigers guessing as to which front they will open up in the north once the much hyped operations in that area begin. Previously the military has shown signs that they will move southwards towards Elephant Pass from the current positions along the Killai-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil axis. The recent air strikes in the Pallai and Soranpattu regions along with the artillery attacks from Muhamalai can be an indication of this. Also there has been visible manoeuvring in the Vavuniya front with several battle hardened officers being transferred there along with some units which took part in the recent Vakarai operation. The newly created 57 division is also based at Vavuniya. A northwards thrust from Vavuniya will be reminiscent of the Jayasikuru operation which ended inconclusively after setting a record as the longest military operation in Sri Lankan history. In addition to these two fronts the military has two more options. It can either open a new front from the Mannar mainland, moving along the A32 road or else move north from Welioya towards Mullaitivu. The LTTE of course will not be able to defend all these areas and will have to make a calculated guess as to which front the military will open up once full scale hostilities break up in the north. In the meantime the military is keeping the Tigers guessing with repeated air strikes and artillery attacks on most of these vital areas.
In as much as the massive explosives haul in Jaffna was made by security forces based on information provided, the Tigers targeted the group of army personnel, it appears based on advance information.
So, it goes without saying to have an upper hand in battles and indeed in this phase of Eelam War, what matters most is intelligence gathering.
The military has rightly claimed a first innings win in the eighth-month long war. But, the second innings is going to be a tough call judging by the stepped up operations in the north. The winner is decided at the end of both innings.
While some say the war cannot be won conclusively, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, himself a battle-hardened veteran, strongly believes that the Security Forces could win the war. In fact when diplomats and other visiting foreign dignitaries queried from him about the prospects of defeating the Tigers, he has replied in the affirmative.
British State Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Dr. Kim Howells on Friday ended his two-day visit that included a trip to the recently-liberated East. He paid a courtesy call on President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
“During my visit, I heard at first hand the stories of child abduction, disappearances, and other human rights abuses in Sri Lanka… The world needs to see that the Sri Lankan government is taking robust action to safeguard the human rights of all people in Sri Lanka,” said Dr. Howells in a statement.
The country is back to the eighties where the world community focused its attention on human rights violations. But, this time the war on terrorism has slightly blurred the human rights element and even taken precedence.
“As long as the killings and abductions continue the LTTE which claims to be the sole representative of the Tamils will have no future,” said Dr. Howells in an interview with a private television channel.
The British High Commission statement quoting Dr. Howells said the international community needs to be reassured that the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to a peaceful solution.
“Security measures and military action alone do not resolve internal conflicts. For a peaceful resolution to be reached, both sides of the conflict need to realise this,” said Howells.

Military dimensions of a political crisis
The political battle between former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera and the defence establishment was on the prosecution of war and the strategy articulated by the Defence Secretary, the brother of President Rajapksa, who is the Defnce Minister. Samaraweera, who had the backing of the western world as well as India for pursuing a political solution, knows the thinking of the international community better. Samaraweera previously spearheaded the fight to put the Tigers on the terrorist map but suddenly changed gear, causing a clash of interests.
In this phase of war, the Government pre-empted the LTTE and sent a dossier on LTTE’s possible game plan to both India and Pakistan well in advance detailing the number of LTTE camps in the vicinity of the Trincomalee naval base and harbour and the LTTE’s plans to attack the supply line for troops from Trinco harbour to the Kankesanthura port.
While Pakistan continued to support the government by selling Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs), India which is unable to help by selling weapons has increased its surveillance and continued training military personnel.
But it was only last week that the Defence Secretary Rajapaksa during a visit to India was told that in hindsight, the Sri Lankan government’s prediction on the LTTE game plan was correct but failed because of precautions taken.
On Tuesday the Indian Coastguard had foiled a major arms smuggling operation when it seized a boat packed with weapons, chemicals used for bombs and a suicide belt that could blow up a large area. Five men including a top LTTE cadre was on the boat at the time of detection.
Earlier in the week, the Indian Navy caught a boat laden with materials for making Claymore mines and other explosives bought in south India.
On Friday, Naval Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC) off the coast at Kalpitiya detected two suspicious boats about 6 nautical miles North West of Battalangunduwa seas heading towards the Silavathurai. When the patrol craft intercepted the two boats, they were trying to flee the area ignoring the orders.
The naval patrol craft then fired warning shots at the boats and the occupants retaliated. In the end, the naval craft sank the two boats and killed four LTTE cadres on board. Naval diving teams were rushed to the area and recovered among other items, 28 sacks of steel balls containing a total of over one million balls used for land mines.
On Tuesday the LTTE detonated a claymore mine targeting a private vehicle from Akkaraipaththuwa to Aranthalawa. In two other claymore attacks, some 12 STF personnel were injured and hospitalized. STF Commadant DIG Nimal Lewke visited them at the Amapara hospital.
The LTTE cadres are striving hard to prevent the Thoppigala camps, the last bastion of the Tigers in the East, from falling. LTTE Deputy Military Commander Ramesh, Batticaloa Leader Jeyam, Vakarai Leader, Nagesh and Amparai Leader Stalin have been discussing ways of preventing what the military claims is an imminent fall.
Villagers are moving out of Toppigala into government controlled areas like Vavunativu sensing the impending fighting between the two sides. The Tigers still believe to have two 122 mm artillery guns in this region.
This week Karuna loyalists infiltrated Toppigala from the South and exploded a claymore mine, at a place called Panchimaraththaya.
No senior LTTE cadres were among the four killed.
From here some seven kilometres away, there is an LTTE camp and eight to ten satellite camps. At the moment the supply route is totally cut off and there is a lack of food and medicine. From Welikanda to Poonani the supply route is cut off by the army. The LTTE supply routes through Karadiyanaru, Vavunathivu, Ayanthimalai, Kokadicholai , Tharavikulam, and Kiran are also being cut off.
While the STF has taken control of the Batticaloa town and the army has an added responsibility to man Vakarai along with three police stations, senior police officers from the Criminal Investigations Department are likely to be posted to the north and east.
Director CID Sisira Mendis who has been in the service for 30 years and counts four years in his current position is likely to be sent to Vavuniya.
His deputy Nandana Munasinghe is to be transferred to Batticaloa. Both faced interviews to be considered for promotion as DIGs recently.
With the security in key installations being beefed up, it is learnt that President Rajapaksa, discussed with the relevant authorities at the Defence Ministry this week on providing adequate protection to the air port. In fact it was decided that the air force take over the security of the air port from next week. The biggest ever attack on the air port and the air force base at Katunayake was staged in 2001. The defence establishment is taking no chances in protecting the country’s only international air port.

CFA still worth the paper?
Anniversaries will come and go, but the CFA has stood the test of time. Will it ironically be the basis for further hostilities or will it be the basis for a reasonable political solution, only time will tell.
In five years since the CFA was singed the LTTE has lost 2,210 cadres, the most being during the last year, when hostilities resumed.
It is clear that during this past year both sides have paid lip service to the CFA and carried out their plans to a great extent unimpeded. But, during these five years the number of deaths has greatly been minimized.
While the CFA has caused a dent in the LTTE with the breaking away of the Karuna faction, the same agreement gave the LTTE the opportunity to liquidate Tamil paramilitaries opposed to the Tigers, informants and intelligence officers. It provided the atmosphere to bring in weapons and infiltrate the Capital and suburbs as well as Jaffna. Infiltrating cleared areas was done courtesy political offices opened in keeping with the agreement. Some of these have been used for intelligence gathering rather than political work. The permission to marry and settle down after the CFA was signed also has resulted in lesser commitment on the part of LTTE cadres who have families and have tasted freedom. Some have even gone over to government controlled areas and surrendered including at Human Rights Commission offices in order to leave the country.
The CFA which was opposed by parties when in the opposition have been upheld by these same parties when in government. The JVP and the JHU however have been constantly for the abrogation of this agreement but while the JHU which joined the government has been silenced, the JVP will be free, to carry on its campaign (hope not violent) against the CFA, provided that it is not restrained by the police and security forces.