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News Features


 

Eelam War IV: Act Two

As the undeclared Ealam War IV enters its second year, the military managed to clear the LTTE off the east while large quantities of explosives are detected outside the theatre of war

The military has strategically been taking on the Tigers, sector by sector, flushing them out. Depending on the operations, the air force and the navy have been put to good use. The modus operandi has been a judicious mix of jungle warfare coupled with set pieces of conventional war, including strafing by the air force. As we said before, the military comprising the army, navy and air force have been able to dictate the location of the battle on most occasions during this year of war. The navy has been able to largely cut off Tiger supplies and reinforcements from the Mullaitivu to the east, along the coast, as well as curb arms and ammunition supplies across the high seas

This month, the undeclared Eelam War IV will enter its second year. In the first year, the military approached it, from both offensive and defensive stances.

In the actual theatre of war, the military has virtually uprooted the LTTE in the east, with the last battle at the Toppigala base.
The military has strategically been taking on the Tigers, sector by sector, flushing them out. Depending on the operations, the air force and the navy have been put to good use. The modus operandi has been a judicious mix of jungle warfare coupled with set pieces of conventional war. As we said before, the military comprising the army, navy and air force have been able to dictate the location of the battle on most occasions during this year of war. The navy has been able to largely cut off Tiger supplies and reinforcements from the Mullaitivu to the east, along the coast, as well as curb arms and ammunition supplies across the high seas.
But, the military operations conducted so far did displace and unsettle civilians. This column deals with the four sectors of resettlement of civilians displaced by these military operations in the east in a separate box story. This is also a part of the larger strategy to keep the civilians with the military, rather than losing them and losing the war.

On the defensive stance of the government, it must be said that it was carried out at the forward defence lines (FDLs) along the Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil axis in the north and also in the Wanni, along the FDLs right up to Weli Oya, where a new division was created last week.

There has been a lull in operations in the Wanni, after a temporary setback, towards west of Omanthai three weeks back. In view of the Madhu feast, a war-free zone has been declared in the jungles surrounding the shrine. This follows two meetings President Mahinda Rajapaksa had with the College of Bishops a month back, as well as last week.
The two sides have agreed to keep the Madhu area a war-free zone, to ensure that the pilgrims are unaffected during the festival season.

Whether a new front would be opened up in Weli Oya from where the security forces had launched operations to wrest control of Mullaitivu previously, is left to be seen.

Recruitment drive
With the east more or less secured, the military launched a recruitment drive to enrol more security force personnel to prevent a repetition of the past. The east, which was cleared in the early 90s – during UNP times, were allowed to be infiltrated in the mid 90s for want of security force personnel. The forces were pulled up north for operations during Chandrika Kumaratunga’s first presidential term.

On the recent military achievements in the east, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told the Mahanayaka Theras, during a meeting at the Presidential Secretariat that the LTTE has been weakened militarily. He, however, added if the military operations were to be called off at this stage, the LTTE would take the opportunity to strengthen itself. Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonsaka claimed that 2,287 Tigers were killed during confrontations. The LTTE admits around 1,000 Tiger casualties during the Eelam War IV by declaring that 19,210 Tigers have been killed up to May 15 this year.

While the air force had inflicted the biggest damage on the Tigers, the LTTE had instilled the maximum damage on Colombo economically, by the air raids they carried out with ease. The April 28 air raid resulted in the closure of the Katunayake International Airport from 10:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m.

3D radar at Katunayake
As we mentioned a fortnight ago, the SLAF has been able to secure a 3D radar system while the existing 2D radar had been upgraded and the gun systems have now been made fully operational. We also mentioned that visiting US and South Asian experts had recommended that the air force would have to go for interceptors, given the serious LTTE threat.
SLAF Commander Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke assured the Mahanayakes at the meeting at the Presidential Secretariat that 3D radars had been installed at Katunayake and in Colombo to track low-flying planes and minimise the threat of LTTE air attacks. He said similar radar systems would be installed closer to the places of Air Tiger take off. The radar has already been tested and proved, he added.

In view of the government decision to re-open the airport in July for night flights, a two-day evaluation of security at Katunayake was done by airline operators on Thursday and Friday, last week. Navy Commander Vice AdmiralWasantha Karannagoda was also present.

As the Colombo port is also under threat, the government plans to install underwater surveillance systems in Colombo harbour to enhance the defences of the port. (See box story)

No stone unturned
The government is not leaving any stone unturned in its efforts to defend, not just its forward defence lines in the operational areas, but military and economic targets in the city – not to mention the many potential political targets.
As this is a war waged with a terrorist organisation, the security of the capital Colombo and its suburbs – that includes military and economic targets – take priority, the government has reasoned.

Never before have security checks being so stringent in Colombo and the suburbs than during this past year.
This has, no doubt, resulted in inconvenience to civilians of all races and creeds. But, Tamil civilians, and particularly those who were visiting Colombo and the suburbs from the north and east had to face the brunt of security operations in the city and suburbs. The LTTE thrives on ill-treatment of Tamil civilians, and the security forces who have been asked to spare no one in terms of security, would also now have to be told to be conscious of the fallout on the human rights front.

Security of all groups of people lies in the hands of the security forces. Given that the LTTE uses indiscriminate acts of terrorism, including all types of bombings, to target civilians – such as in Kebethigollewa last June and Colombo (twice) last month – stringent security measures have to be taken to ensure the security of Sri Lankans and even foreigners.

Explosive hauls
Within the space of a month - June 1 and 29 – the police and the navy made two 1,000 kilogram explosives hauls in Kotavehera in Kurunegala and Trincomalee respectively.
Intelligence operations helped crack LTTE cells in Colombo, the suburbs and the rest of the country. In Jaffna, several months back, a similar explosives haul was detected.

It is obvious that the LTTE has been trying hard to take on economic and military targets, using these loads of explosives.
Ironically, it was hours after President Mahinda Rajapaksa had rewarded five police personnel for the Kotavehera detection on Friday (29) that, on a tip off, the second 1,000kg explosives haul was made by the navy in Trincomalee. The authorities had announced after the June 1 detection that they were on the look out for another explosives-laden vehicle.

This time it was not an ordinary lorry, but a freezer truck that was used to carry the deadly explosives. The parked truck was found at Padikkiya, a fishing village close to the Trincomalee port and was checked on a tip off received by the navy. One person had been arrested and handed over to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) which is probing the case.
Meanwhile, in the Kotavehera detection, the CID has made a breakthrough after a month-long probe and sleuths have identified a possible economic target. Another vehicle with 1,000 kg of explosives is still at large, it is learnt.

Kotavehera police OIC D.C. Kobbewala, who directed investigations, received Rs. 300,000. Police Sergeant D.H.M. Prematilake who was on duty at the Palugaswewa check point was promoted Sub Inspector, while Police Constable Senayayake Herath was promoted Sergeant. They were given Rs. 100,000 each and so were police assistants Susantha Ranjith and A.M.W. Adhikaram Police Chief Victor Perera said rewarding these police personnel would be an incentive for others to become more vigilant and act prudently to prevent a major destruction. Senior DIG Sirisena Herath, DIG Pujitha Jayasundara and SSP Anura Senanayake were present at the occasion.

Excesses in the process
While the security forces and police personnel have been conscientiously carrying out their duties, there have been excesses on their part in the process. They have even overstepped their mandate. Last week this column deliberated on such abductions for ransom and the fall out internationally. Both the government, in general, and the military, in particular, must not allow a state of impunity to set in, as it erodes public confidence as well as invites international condemnation.

We are happy to note that the government has taken such and other exposures in the right spirit, and last Wednesday, Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella highly commended media persons for their active role in highlighting human rights issues in the south. The government has also setup two special operation cells – under the Presidential Secretariat and police – to collect information and act on complaints of abductions and extortion in Colombo and suburbs. The government also established a special centre at the BMICH to gather information on abductions in Colombo and the suburbs, while a committee comprising Minister Dullas Alahaperuma, Minister Rajitha Senaratne, Deputy Minister P. Radhakrishnan, Deputy Minister K. Baiz and CMC Opposition Leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara, to supervise the progress of the centre. The committee had a meeting with the Police Chief Victor Perera yesterday.

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Enhanced harbour defences to counter Tiger threat

Sri Lankan security authorities plan to install underwater surveillance systems in Colombo harbour to enhance the defences of the port, which handles most of the island’s trade. The new measures are being taken to protect the port against Tamil Tiger attacks, senior defence and port officials said.

The surveillance systems are designed to detect intrusions by both submersibles as well as Tiger scuba divers. Such systems were rarely available commercially and were found only with the world’s most advanced navies until recent years, when the global Al Qaeda threat made maritime security a big business.

Officials said the underwater intruder detection devices were being tested at the moment. They said the equipment was expensive, but that the government would spare no expense to safeguard an economic installation as vital as Colombo port.
More than 90 percent of Sri Lanka’s trade goes through Colombo port and any disruption of cargo flows could affect the entire economy. Perceptions that security in the harbour is weak could also have economic implications if foreign insurers jack up risk premiums. The Tigers are known to be keen to attack the harbour and the authorities recently moved to clear the vicinity of the port of commercial structures.

The Tigers tried to attack the harbour in April 1995 when a speed boat and a suicide diver actually entered the port, but were detected and blown up. The new security measures take on added significance with reports that one of the two suspected Tamil Tiger supporters arrested in London recently had been planning to buy underwater warfare and naval weapons systems.
The suspects, Arunachalam Chrishanthakumar, also known as A.C. Shanthan, 50, and Goldan Lambert, 29, appeared Thursday at Westminster Magistrates Court, Central London, and were charged under UK’s Terrorism Act 2000. The Tamil Tigers are banned in Britain as a terrorist organisation.

The pair is accused of providing support to a “proscribed organisation.” London’s Metropolitan Police said Chrishanthakumar is accused of receiving literature and manuals allegedly included information about underwater warfare and naval weapons systems and bomb disposal.

This year Tiger guerrillas have been stepping up their campaign against economic infrastructure by bombing two petroleum installations with light aircraft. An attempt to bring down a vital high tension powerline that fed the national grid from a key generating complex failed last month when a tower failed to topple when an explosive device went off at its base. (LBO)

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War for polls

On Wednesday Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, during a field trip to Akaraipattu, had remarked that elections were on the cards in the east. The same day the presidential secretariat website had posted an announcement that the government had decided to hold elections in the Eastern Province following the liberation of areas under the control of the LTTE.
“The armed forces are engaged in what is considered to be the final battle to capture the LTTE base at Thoppigala, their last remaining stronghold in the east. The armed action is, in fact, aimed at restoring democracy in the east,” the same story states.
It is learnt that the elections of grassroots level local government bodies; Pradeshiya Sabhas and Urban Councils will be held in the near future, followed by elections of higher bodies afterwards, it added.

But, it was on Friday June 22, that at a meeting of several Government Agents of the north and east with the Commissioner of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake, a decision was taken to postpone elections of 42 local authorities in Batticaloa, Amparai, Wanni and Jaffna originally scheduled for June 30 to February 29, 2008. Elections of local authorities in Trincomalee were held on April 24, 2004.

Accordingly, a Gazette Notification was issued on June 22 stating that local authority elections were postponed for February 29, 2008. Those present at the meeting were Amparai GA Sunil Kannangara, Batticaloa GA Sundaram Arumanayagam, Vavuniya GA S. Shanmugama, Mullaitivu GA Imeld Sukumar, Jaffna GA V. Ganesh.
The rationale of the government for this move is to conduct military operations to clear areas once held by the LTTE to restore civil administration initially. The next move would be to restore democracy later, by conducting elections to local authorities and the provincial councils in the east and the north.

The government has probably calculated that the east could have been cleared much earlier and civilians resettled, and hence the calculation of end of June time frame for elections.
Now it appears that the government would have to be prepared to even go for a general election, hence the need to capitalise on the military victories in the east. Days before senior minister and SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena told journalists that the security forces had inflicted the worst-ever defeats on the LTTE, he spoke to Secretary Defence Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Minister Sirisena had told the Defence Secretary that the Sinhalese people in the east were happy that they are no longer under LTTE threat.

Mr. Sirisena announced that the government would pay tribute to soldiers who sacrificed much to flush out terrorists and create normalcy in the area so that civilians could resume normal life.
“The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is committed to wiping out terrorism in the country. Today, the LTTE has been weakened to a great extent,” Minister Sirisena said.

The same could be said of the Tamil and Muslim civilians who no longer are at the whims and fancies of the Tigers, the government believes. Also, as this column mentioned previously, the government plans a major infrastructure development plan in the east after the resettlement programme ends.
Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama on Thursday announced in Tokyo that his government had started development work in the east.
‘’Today, the entire of the Eastern Province, the three districts...have been cleared fully of the LTTE influence and their presence... We have now started development work,’’ Bogollagama had said.
A 500 million yen aid package to help refugees and displaced, as part of Tokyo’s efforts to aid the country’s peace process, was unveiled on Thursday.

Civilian displacement
The eastern resettlement programme has been effected in four sectors with the first being Vakarai, which this column discussed in the March 25 issue.
In the Wellawalai (Poraitivu Pattu Divisional Secretariat Division) 29,026 people from 8,781 families have been resettled. In Pattipola (Manmunai Southwest DS division) 21,384 individuals from 6,385 families have been resettled while in Vavunativu (Manmunai West DS division) 25,066 individuals from 7,309 families have been resettled. In all, in these four sectors including Vakarai, 97,096 people have been resettled. Police stations have been opened in all these places while post offices, hospitals and schools have resumed functioning.

A total of 78 schools catering to 20,000 students are functioning and 20 post and sub post offices are operational in these three divisions alone barring Vakarai. Electricity has been restored and in Echalampattu in the Trincomalee District power has been provided for the first time. In the Trincomalee District in Echalampattu, 1,135 people from 338 families have been resettled, while in Muttur 45,131 individuals from 11,845 families are back in their places. In Seruwila, 1,457 people from 442 families have been re-settled and a further 47,773 from 12,625 families in Batticaloa have been re-settled, the government claims.
The LTTE has been trying to make its presence felt by an occasional attack. On Thursday, the Chairman of the Thirikkovil Pradesheeya Sabha, Tillenayagam Udaya Kumar, was killed when a hand grenade was flung at him.
He had assisted the development and resettlement projects launched by the government to develop the infrastructure and uplift the living condition of the Tamil community in the area, the government maintained. In Vakarai, the Poosari who welcomed the President was shot dead.

In Batticaloa the STF and the police are in charge of security while in Trincomalee, the army, navy and police are responsible for security under the GOC Major General Milinda Peiris who left for Italy yesterday.
Meanwhile, the TMVP announced that its military wing has consolidated its strength over the areas of Vakaneri, Pulipainthakal, Pirampadiththivu, Murukkankthivu and Muruththanai and is currently engaged in launching ceaseless ferocious attack on the LTTE to drive them out of these areas in the east.

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