Wanni top brass in ‘musical
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka on Friday made a beeline to
Vavuniya where he was received by outgoing Wanni Security Forces
Commander Major General Upali Edirisinghe.
General Fonseka met Divisional Commanders and Brigade Commanders to
review the security situation in the Wanni and brief them on operations
ahead, now that the East has been cleared.
The Army Commander’s visit to the Wanni came exactly a week after army
headquarters announced changes in the Wanni command, which were reported
in a Sunday newspaper last week.
Senpathi reported changes to the commands in the Wanni - 56 and the
newly created 57 Divisions- on June 17. Brigadier Jagath Rambukpotha
from the artillery was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) 56
Division while Brigadier Jagath Dias from the infantry was appointed GOC
Commander, Mannar Division, Major General Udeni Munasinghe, given a
Brigadier’s appointment, retired prematurely and was replaced by
Brigadier Channa Gunatilleke.
Area Commander Weli Oya, Major General Nimal Jayasuriya, once GOC 53
Division, was replaced by Brigadier M.K. Jayawardena. And to top it all,
Security Forces (SF) Commander, Wanni, Major General Upali Edirisinghe
was also removed and replaced by Major General Jagath Jayasuriya.
Ever since the GOC 53 Division Brigadier Srinath Rajapaksa was selected
for a defence course in China, speculation was rife that Major General
Jagath Jayasuriya, would replace him. This would have been a stepping
stone to SF Commander Jaffna, from General G.A. Chandrasiri, who further
climbed the ladder. General Jagath Jayasuriya has been brought straight
away as SF Commander Wanni. With this appointment and that of Major
General G.P.R.S. de Silva as GOC 21 Division, the entire Wanni Command
has changed within a space of two months.
Changing the entire Command in a very vulnerable area, may send mixed
signals to the LTTE. It may mean that the military would no longer be
pursuing operations in the Wanni or, it could also mean that officers
were handpicked to undertake specific operations in the region.
Generally, change of the entire command could be disadvantageous to the
forces. SF Commanders and Division Commanders need time to familiarize
themselves with Brigade Commanders and Field commanders, to get to know
their strengths and weaknesses and to familiarize themselves with the
terrain and be privy to intelligence inputs of the enemy, before taking
the plunge. Of course, those leaving the command would pass on available
With the Wanni waiting to flare up, and the buildup already reported
previously, the question is which side would take the initiative? The
LTTE has two options, either to dig in with a formidable defence or,
pre-empt with a strike. A successful strike would unsettle the
Government, making it more vulnerable.
Political events do have an impact on military operations. This week the
ruling alliance was rocked with the news that a coalition partner, the
Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), withdrew its support for the government.
A major section of the CWC, headed by its leader, Arumugam Thondaman,
decided to sit in the Opposition benches from next week.
This follows SLFP (M) wing leader Mangala Samaraweera’s announcement
that several members would cross over to the Opposition. Generally, such
crossovers begin with minority parties like the CWC and Sri Lanka Muslim
Congress (SLMC), as witnessed in 2001. These are followed by disgruntled
members of the key party in a ruling alliance that takes a decisive step
after satisfying itself as to the direction the wind is blowing.
The initial euphoria of military victories has already died down, with
the cost of living spiraling even as the expenditure shoots up. The
government is cash strapped and not knowing where to turn.
On the other hand, the LTTE, which hit a low ebb, has the advantage of
playing for time, a factor any terrorist organization relishes. On the
other hand, governments- whether they are pursuing peace or war agenda-
have limited timeframes to achieve their objectives. The government is
three years, three months old and already showing signs of cracking up,
unless the JVP supports it with its numbers. This will be to its own
advantage, as the JVP would not want to go to the polls for fear of
reducing its own numbers. To continue the war, the JVP would support the
government, which, however, allowed the JVP to go its own way, after
accepting crossovers from the Opposition, against the wishes of the
Political support apart, the question is how would the government raise
money to carry on its programmes, even as the international community
seems to distance itself from the administration.
Even if it has the political support in Parliament and the financial
wherewithal to continue operations, what is the guarantee that the LTTE,
well entrenched in the Wanni, would cave in. On the other hand, if the
military faces a reversal, it would affect the ruling SLFP’s chances of
returning to power.
All its achievements so far, culminating in the liberation of Thoppigala
and the entire east, would come to naught.
The operations to drive away the LTTE from Muttur (first anniversary
this week), Kattaparichchan, Lower Thopur, and Selvanagar, Sampur,
Vakarai , Verugal , Kadiraveli and Thoppigala were reported in great
detail by Senpathi who also recorded shortcomings of the military and
the LTTE air raids, much to the chagrin of certain officers. The Navy’s
direct contribution in the early operations and indirect support to the
military, by preventing supplies and reinforcements by sea, must also be
During the past year, the military recovered an unprecedented amount of
arms and ammunition, after each operation. The recent ones are no
exception. Major Sarada Samarakoon who led soldiers from the 10 Gajaba
Regiment recovered a massive haul of arms and ammunition including four
mortar launchers, a grenade launcher, two machine guns, a Sniper gun, 24
T-56 rifles and 60 rounds of ammunition, 200 mortar shells, 325
anti-personnel mines, 6,500 rounds of live ammunition, two claymore
mines, 400 cartridges and 199 detonators. These were buried and
camouflaged with leaves. Meanwhile, the 51 Brigade in Jaffna, this week,
recovered a cache of arms and ammunition including five suicide belts
loaded with ammunition.
Defence Secretary Gotbhaya Rajapaksa joined Foreign Minister Rohitha
Bogollagam to the Philippines. ASEAN Regional Forum members, especially
India, China, Australia, Japan and the United States were requested to
help Sri Lanka protect its maritime borders. The Government is doing all
it can, on all fronts, to prevent the LTTE from smuggling weapons into
However, back home, the government is in a crunch. The JVP would support
the government only until a point of time, when it is advantageous. The
JVP would not want to be identified with the ruling party, as it would
further affect its ratings at an eventual election.
While the options of the military are limited, given the political and
financial considerations, the LTTE, on the other hand, is neither bound
by financial constraints nor political compulsions.
Hence, the LTTE would, in time to come, when the government is weakened,
begin to strike. Weli Oya has been identified as a vulnerable area
A former Reserve Strike Division (53) Commander Major General Nimal
Jayasuriya who was accorded a farewell as outgoing Area Commander Weli
Oya, now takes up a logistics duty as Forward Maintenance Area in Jaffna,
ensuring enough provisions- food, fuel and the like.
At the time Jayauriya took up the appointment at Weli Oya, there was no
Forward Defence Line (FDL) between Padaviya and Kebethhigollewa, which
was attacked twice last year. As Weli Oya had been identified as a
probable target by the Tigers, all out to prove they are still in the
running, General Jayasuriya got a 25-km bunker line constructed to
prevent raids on villages in Weli Oya. This was also to prevent the
Tigers from infiltrating and placing bombs in the area.
A stretch of five km of no-man’s land between Kokkutuduvai, almost on
the eastern coast, and Janakapura, was a tactical disadvantage to the
army. General Jayasuriya had a fortified bunker line built linking
Janakapura. This was also appreciated by the villagers.
A raid on a Sinhala border village could have a political fallout at the
centre, which in turn, could affect the military balance in the war.
The LTTE is currently in a similar situation to the immediate post
Riviresa, sans both the Jaffna peninsula and the East. In the earlier
phase, it took Mulativu, this time it has to defend Mulativu.
It is tempting to go for the big kill in Mulativu and it is uncertain
whether the military would receive the nod from a government trapped on
‘All Clear’ for Madhu feast
The military has given a written assurance that it would open the
Madhu Road from August 10 to 17, to enable pilgrims from the South to
visit the holy shrine for the August 15 Madhu Matha feast.
The road closed by the army after the August 15 feast last year, was not
opened for the July 2 feast this year. The LTTE which has given a verbal
assurance, is expected to give it in writing tomorrow.
The breakthrough was significant, as Mannar was tense with operations
and counter operations by the two sides, and only last Tuesday, the LTTE
targeted an army vehicle at Cheddikulam on the Mannar-Medawachchiya
The two sides, following several meetings with the church authorities
and the ICRC, have agreed to refrain from any political or military
activity, ahead of and after the feast, until all pilgrims have left.
The army had last month declined to open the Madhu Road for the July 2
feast, even after the LTTE agreed to do so after a meeting between
Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph and LTTE Political Wing Leader S.P.
As the military agreement was not forthcoming for last month’s feast,
access to the Madhu shrine was through the Uliyankulam Road.
Two days after the feast, Bishop Joseph wrote to Defence Secretary,
Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on July 4, requesting the army to open the Madhu
Road for the main August feast.
After the matter was taken up at a high level security conference,
Defence Secretary Rajapaksa had instructed Additional Secretary R.M.
Ratnayake to write to Bishop Joseph. Accordingly, MOD clearance was
granted, courtesy a letter dated July 23, addressed to the Bishop of
Mannar and signed by Assistant Secretary Defence, H.A. Chaminda As the
Defence Secretary was out of the country, his brother, Presidential
Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, met Bishop Joseph and sorted out matters on
In April this year, during an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, President
Mahinda Rajapaksa was requested by Vaticam Secretary Cardinal Tarcisco
Bertone to allow pilgrims to visit the holy shrine.
LTTE top official Suda Master conveyed the LTTE’s clearance to open its
side of the Road for the Madhu feast and on Monday a written assurance
is to be sent to the Mannar Bishop.
There were also meetings between Bishop Joseph and outgoing Security
Forces Commander, Wanni, Major General Upali Edirisinghe and Vavuniya
Commander Major General Ratnasabapathy and Brigadier S. Ranasinghe from
Accordingly, the Madhu Road will be opened from 8:00 am to 6:00 p.m. for
all pilgrims but, the church authorities are trying to obtain clearance
for a 24-hour opening during these days. Church and civil authorities
are confident that there would be a turn out of between one to two lakhs
from the South and the North. During peace times, an average 500,000
people make the trek to the Madhu shrine from around the country.
Anuradhapura Biship Norbert Anradhi and Galle Bishop Harold Anthony have
confirmed participation and so have more than half-dozen priests, Mannar
Bishop Joseph said.
Bishop Joseph said that while pilgrims of all faiths would have their
unique spiritual experience, he was keen on having pilgrims from the
north and south to live together as a testimony of unity and brotherhood
in a country torn apart by strife from war. He said the theme this time
is Prayer for Peace and pilgrims are advised to bring their tents as
usual, as there are only limited housing facilities.
All proceeds are used for the maintenance of this 450-year-old holy
shrine in the middle of a jungle.
The nine-day novenas, ahead of the August 15 feast, will commence
tomorrow, with the hoisting of the church flag, a day after the church
administrator Rev. Fr. S. Emillanaspulle celebrated his silver jubilee
Access from August 6 to 9, will be through the Uyilankulam entry point
and not through the Madhu Road. Pilgrims are expected to carry their NIC
as well as copies and vehicle insurance and ownership details with
copies, to pass through army and LTTE checkpoints in the forward defence
lines of the two sides.
On Friday, Mannar Government Agent Nicholaspulle held a meeting at the
Kachcheri with all the relevant authorities from different sectors,
including Health and Sanitation, Water Supply and Drainage, Food and
Fuel, Roads and Transport, Police and Security attended by the OIC of
the Uliyankulam Police Point and officers from the Thallady Army Camp.
This was the third such meeting held on Friday while the second was held
last Wednesday on August 1 and the first on July 25 after MOD clearance
was granted. The last meeting would be held on Wednesday, August 8 after
The army is in charge of the first section of the Madhu Road which is
nearly 800 metres up to no-man’s land, which is another 300 metres,
while the LTTE is in charge of nearly 11 km. The road is being cleared
up to 50 feet on both sides and demarcations made to ensure the
protection of pilgrims. Clearing of no-man’s land will be done by the
Army and the LTTE in the presence of monitors or the ICRC and church
The area south of the A-14, Mannar-Medawchchiya Road, is under army
control and areas north are under LTTE control. The Madhu Road starts at
the turn off on the Mannar-Medawachciya Road and is under army control
initially followed by no-man’s land and the road up to the shrine is
under Tiger control. The approach to the shrine is being cleared by the
church. The A-14 Road extends up to Talaimannar, which is under Navy
control. From Uliyankulam where there is an entry-exit point, there is a
road that leads all the way up to Pooneryn that is under LTTE control.
Have we no shame?
By Dharisha Bastians
This time, last year, we were doing the rounds in Kantale, where the
tension and the sound of gunfire were palpable. The small town of 45,000
people, bordered by the beautiful Kantale tank, was unrecognisable.
Every corner we turned, scores of refugees, some holding their worldly
possessions in one polythene bag, littered the roadsides, making
temporary shelters underneath bullock carts and trees, because the
schools and temples were full. Oxfam was complaining that they could not
provide adequate sanitation facilities, because there were just too many
people populating a single area - within days of the Mutur siege (August
2), Kantale’s population had tripled.
We arrived in Kantale on August 2, 2006. People were fleeing the area in
droves and hostilities had come all the way down to the primarily
Sinhala villages of Serunuwara and Ali Oluwa.
When we embarked on that trip to Seruwila, the tiny village holding out
against the conflict raging outside its borders, we never imagined we
would become refugee convoys that day. All day long, the Multi-Barrels
drummed on and the Kfir jets thundered overhead. There was a brief
encounter with a Reuters correspondent, a few kilometres away from the
conflict zone we were nearing. He refused to go any further, no matter
how good the story – “I don’t want to die here in your war,” he told us.
We ourselves never realised how close we had gotten to the conflict,
until we were confronted with the reality of an entire village on the
run, the fighting taking place less than 50-metres away.
As the pregnant women, children and aged men and women piled into our
van to hitch a ride back to Kantale, our thoughts stayed behind at the
Mahaweligama Maha Vidyalaya, where there were so many we had to leave
behind. We left all the water and snacks we had with us at the school,
but none of that could still our collective conscience. There we were
heading back to Colombo, to relative safety and running water, while a
section of our own people were locked in a conflict from which there was
Two days later, we were in Kantale again, our minds reeling from the
tale of the 17 Action Contre Faim workers killed during the Mutur siege
between August 2-4, 2006. Theories abounded in Kantale, so close to the
heart of the tragedy. One thing was clear; the murders had taken place
after the LTTE had fled the area in the face of an offensive by the
“It was most probably the home-guards, that is what we hear. They are
the least trained, and the most afraid,” I recall one journalist opined.
All fingers pointed at the government forces, but one year later, apart
from the strange disappearance of a bullet that was part of the
evidence, nothing more has come to light. The government has shamelessly
dragged its feet in the investigation, which would serve its own
interests best, if it were conducted in a fair manner, since its top
priority should be clearing the name of the security forces personnel,
who to this date, stand suspected of the crimes. To this date, the Mutur
massacre of aid workers, remains one of the most brutal crimes committed
against humanitarian workers in the world ever, and a hideous blot upon
the bona fides of this government and its commitment to upholding the
rights of all human beings. Yes, Mutur, Serunuwara, Kantale – the
stories are indelibly etched in our minds. The government could have
temporary memory loss, we cannot afford to, for our consciences might
just eat us alive. So much has happened since.
Sampur has been taken, Vakarai captured and the feather in the
government’s cap, Thoppigala is ‘ours’ again. But elsewhere in this
country, 17 families grieve for loved ones lost, for crimes gone
unpunished, for disclosures never afforded to them. On behalf of my
‘elected representatives’, I hang my head in shame.