Military Matters


Army top brass kept hopping by the Tigers’ accurate artillery attacks

“Jaffna SF Commander escapes artillery strike,” was the title of the defence column last week. Senpathi exclusively reported that Security Forces Commander, Major General G.A. Chandrasiri escaped an artillery strike on the Jaffna peninsula last week.
The incident, that shook the Defence establishment, was kept under wraps a whole week, until it was reveled in The Nation. Even if the rest of the world is kept in the dark, the group that matters most- the LTTE- knew exactly what it did it, and how it failed.
Time was on General Chandrasiri’s side, as his delay in visiting an area close to the Muhamalai Forward Defence Lines (FDL) was bombarded by artillery, forcing him to abandon his field trip.
His planned field trip came days before Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Donald Perera and Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka visited Jaffna on Saturday (18).
He briefed the top defence official and the military top brass about operational plans as well as the prevailing security situation in Jaffna. The enemy’s artillery firepower was also discussed.
Three days later, the army chief was to make a second visit to Jaffna on Tuesday, this time with his Director Operations, Major General Udaya Perera. Towards this end, there was a hive of activity at the underground Operations Room at Palaly Brigade Headquarters opened exactly four months back, by the army chief himself.
On that occasion, too, a few days after the opening ceremony, the LTTE, on April 24, fired more than 30 rounds of artillery; half the number fell within the Palaly High Security Zone (HSZ), at that time. Incidentally, that was also a Tuesday.
The timing of the LTTE artillery barrage on Tuesday (21), coincided with a civilian plane, carrying more than four-dozen passengers, landing at the Palaly air base.
All hell broke lose, with the military officers taking cover in underground bunkers, while a soldier succumbed to the artillery fire. Last October, another soldier’s head was severed in an artillery strike, during a guided tour of Muhamalai, after a major battle on October 11. (A fortnight back Senpathi dealt with in great detail about the LTTE’s artillery fire power).
Just after sunrise, General Chandrasiri headed for the Palaly airfield to welcome his superior, General Fonseka, who in turn, had to cancel his trip to Jaffna at the eleventh hour, after the LTTE artillery strike.
Nature played its role. Due to inclement weather, the pilot of the chopper assigned to carry the army chief to Katunayake from Colombo, delayed getting airborne. The AN- 32 aircraft taking the army chief to Jaffna, did not land at Palaly at the appointed hour.
The initial delay put time schedules in disarray, much to the consternation of the LTTE but, to the consolation of the army. For more than 30 minutes the LTTE sustained its artillery strike.
The initial shell shock that military commanders experienced in Palaly on Tuesday morning, was carried through at a top level security meeting later in Colombo.
What was shocking was the timing of the LTTE artillery strike on both occasions to coincide with the field visit of General Chandrasiri and the scheduled visit of General Fonseka to the Palaly air base, where the former was at hand to receive his superior.
The LTTE had mistaken a civilian plane, for the one the army chief was traveling in, suggesting that the information may have been passed to the Tigers from this end (Colombo) and not Palaly. Or, is it that the LTTE gets wind of VIP visitors owing to the hive of activity, including extra catering that is undertaken.
There is a marked difference between the latest attack and the February artillery attack on Kodikamam, that injured the head of the Mechanised Infantry Brigade, Lt. Col Ralph Nugera and more than a dozen others. In the Kodikamam attack, there appears to be information passed from Jaffna itself on the impending conference.
A few months later, in the artillery attack on the Weber stadium, Batticaloa, some believe that the LTTE was unaware that foreign diplomats were onboard. The Tigers were apparently targeting the ministers and other officials. But, others are convinced that the LTTE, which is generally well informed, knew in advance, as the visit was coordinated with several officials, NGO personnel and others in Batticaloa. The diplomats too had taken a risk as they were warned by the defence authorities not to make the scheduled trip as it was unsafe.
This year there were at least four sustained artillery attacks on selected VIP targets.
Four months ago, the Palaly HSZ was targeted and the runway, too, had to be closed, days after an operational room was declared open.
More than pushing its way to recapture Jaffna, at this juncture, the LTTE hopes to frustrate possible plans by the army to move down to Elephant Pass through Palai across the Muhamalai-Nagarkovil axis.
However, the army maintains that it was the LTTE which was readying itself for a decisive battle in the north, in the days ahead and, towards that end, Tiger cadres from Mannar FDLs were drawn towards Pooneryn.
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) has also recorded sustained firing by Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs) by the army and artillery and counter fire in the Pooneryn area and the Jaffna FDLs.
The security rationale for a possible attack on Pooneryn by the security forces is to bring the area under military control to curb the increasing number of artillery strikes from this region.
In the end, the army commander was deprived entry into Palaly. With the East secured by the military, and the Trincomalee port and Naval dockyard less impregnable, the LTTE’s alternative is to cut supplies of men and material via Palaly. On Tuesday, artillery shells exploded as far as Kankesanthurai. Previous attempts by the Sea Tigers to attack KKS harbour, were foiled by the Navy and others. Another reason for attacking the Palaly airstrip, is to prevent supplies being airlifted, as the monsoon is set to come on.
Last August, the LTTE gave a sampling of its firepower, when it demonstrated artillery strikes during the battles for Mutur and other places.
Kept out of Palaly on Tuesday, on account of the LTTE’s artillery attack, the army chief on Thursday chose to visit the Wanni- where the entire command has been changed-- to assess the security situation there. He was received by Wanni Security Forces Commander Major General Jagath Jayasuriya at Vavuniya. The military’s forays into the Wanni have been reported over the past several weeks. Will the thrust be from Jaffna or the Wanni? It appears that both sides are not taking chances, and would not walk into the opponent’s trap.
Be that as it may, the LTTE was bent on eliminating General Chandrasiri for two reasons- short-term and long -term. It has been the LTTE’s aim to recapture Jaffna, and the best way to do it is by eliminating the military leadership there.
Even though it failed to eliminate the SF Commander, the very attempt was likely to create a fear psychosis, at least, initially, to send the government’s military plans haywire.
As part of its long-term strategy, the LTTE is bent on eliminating potential military leaders, as it did assassinating strong political leaders in the making. The likes of Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Ranjan Wijeratne et al come to mind. General Chandrasiri, seen as a future candidate to lead the army, is, naturally, a target.
Penetrating the security ring of the army top brass, is a tall order, after the Tigers’ suicide blasts that killed the Army’s No. 3- Major General Parami Kulataunga and severely injured the No.1. Artillery seems to be the Tigers’ answer while the military would do well to plug the holes, and keep the movements of its top brass a secret.


Killing of 17 ACF aid workers

Rigor mortis sets into investigations

CID subverts chain of custody by ‘hijacking’ incriminating bullets from exhumed bodies

The Commission of Inquiry hearing the murder of 17 aid workers from Action Against Hunger or ACF, was informed that the Army was in the vicinity, at the time of the mass killing.
The lead story in the State owned Ceylon Daily News (CDN) of August 4, 2006, titled, “Government in full control of Mutur,” was an admission that the security forces called the shots by August 3, last year.
Government Defence Spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwelle was quoted as saying that Mutur town was “under the total control of the Security Forces.”
Under the circumstances, how could the LTTE have committed the murder of 17 aid workers?
However, the case is still wide open, as, in this same story, Minister Rambukwella says: “At present, small groups of LTTE cadres are sheltering among the civilian population and directing small arms fire.”
Were the 17 ACF workers killed by these LTTE cadres sheltering among the civilian population?
At the time Minister Rambukwella made these comments on August 3, 2006, at the weekly press briefing, the aid workers were very much alive, according to evidence.
The last conversation between the ACF Mutur office and the Trinco office, took place at 6:30 a.m. on August 4, and it is suspected that they were killed just after that.
If the killings took place that early, there is the possibility that it was a pre-meditated act by either of the parties, for acts of commission or omission on the part of some or all of these workers, during the Mutur battle won by the security forces.
The forces could have done it and so could have the LTTE, for failing to support the group that was fighting with its backs to the wall.
Hence, the case is till open.
That early in the morning, the workers were wearing ACF T-shirts. Was it purposely meant to heighten the gravity of the crime?
Were the aid workers asked by the fleeing Tigers, to get dressed, to meet with them early next day? Or, did the forces, after liberating Mutur, want to meet up with the security forces, early next day.
The question to ask is what business the killers (whoever they are) had with the ACF workers that early in the day?
At this same press briefing, Minister Rambukwella had further said, “The LTTE is firing on public buildings and Defence establishments, using small arms, while taking cover under human shelter, particularly, amongst the Muslim community in Mutur,” according to the CDN story. He also said that the public had been very cooperative and information was flowing to Government Defence authorities, on the locations occupied by the LTTE cadres operating in small groups.
Did the aid workers pass on information about the Tigers, to the forces or, info about the forces to the Tigers?
It would be interesting to see the transcript of the last mobile phone conversation from the ACF office in Mutur.
Whose bullets were found embedded in the heads of these aid workers? Did they belong to guns used by the LTTE or the security forces?
As Minister Rambukwella observed, the Tigers remaining after the battle in Mutur, used small arms? So are these the bullets of the Tigers or, that of the Commandos who were around at the time of the killing, according to the government’s own admission?
Unfortunately, the chain of custody of the bullets, was broken, with sleuths from the CID taking over the bullets from the Anuradhapura Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Waidyaratne, before they were handed over to the Government Analyst for ballistic tests. This was the express direction of the Anuradhapura Magistrate hearing the inquest at Kantale.
Initially, the Mutur Magistrate heard the case and later, Justice Ministry Secretary Suhada Gamlath, Secretary of the Inter Ministerial Committee on Human Rights, intervened to expedite the process by relieving the magistrate of this inquiry. This followed a complaint by the Mutur Magistrate to the Judicial Service Commission that his belongings were stolen from his residence.
The inquest proceedings had been dragging for a while, with junior officers assigned to the case. It began to speed up after senior officers were assigned from the CID. This follows a direction by the powers that be, given the international interest in the whole case. Superintendent of Police, Mark, who was handling the case, is known to be very independent and efficient. A sudden decision was taken yesterday to send SP Mark on a foreign assignment.
For months, progress reports- which had to be filed by the CID- was slow to come by and the inquest proceedings dragged on.
Even a request by ACF, to have the bodies exhumed and examined, was, initially, turned down by the CID, on legal advice by the State. Subsequently, an application was made directly to court and the police were directed to exhume the bodies. Here, too, it was observed that exhuming two bodies would suffice. However, in the end, the family members of all Tamils, except the solitary Muslim, consented to exhuming the bodies. Photographs of the bodies and bullets have been taken.
After the bullets were recovered, court directed that they be in the custody of the JMO Anuradhapura, Dr. Waidyaratne, until they are handed over to the Government Analyst for ballistic tests.
In fact, the court passed strictures on the JMO, for not sending the bullets to the Government Analyst. The following day, around 11:30 a.m. the CID informed court that the JMO had telephoned the CID officers to say that he was not in a position to be in court with the productions. Hence, the CID had gone and collected the bullets and produced them in court, thus breaking the chain of custody.
Not only has the chain of custody being broken, the CID officer who acted independently, has been posted on a foreign assignment.
The CID had planned to record statements from the army and navy officers in Mutur and this was likely to get further delayed now that a key officer has been transferred.
The whole investigation has cast a shadow of doubt, while the international community closely monitors progress.
In response to the request from the international community and the International Group of Eminent Persons, the Commission of Inquiry has afforded priority to this case.
The Government, on its part, has also agreed to introduce witness protection legislation, again on the request of the IGEP. It is claimed that witnesses fear to give evidence, while sleuths and lawyers have also entertained fears.
To add to the confusion, the Australian Pathologist, Dr. Michael Dodd, retracted his statement about a missing bullet, and maintained that he was no ballistic expert.
The case of the missing bullet was finally resolved but, not without causing embarrassment to the government. The Government must not be unnecessarily penalized on account of the killing but, at the same time, it has a responsibility to ensure that the due process is not subverted. The case is still wide open and the system should ensure that justice should not only be done but, appear to be done.