Military Matters



On the Offensive on All Fronts

Several diplomatic efforts, including high level official visits, were made to South East Asian countries, to curb the Tigers from using these places for procurement and shipping of arms and ammunition, to the north and east.

These efforts paid off, as these countries employed greater vigilance to stem the flow of weapons to Sri Lanka, in the recent past.
Besides these efforts, the government has sought to promulgate Emergency Regulations (ER), to make it an offence, not only to procure such material, but also to aid and abet, as well as fund such procurements.

Govt. plugging the gaps
Under fresh regulations, titled Restriction on the Procurement of Certain Items, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has made it an offence for any Sri Lankan national, resident here or overseas, from procuring, aiding or abetting or providing financial assistance under these regulations. Upon conviction after trial by the High Court, a person is liable to Rigorous Imprisonment for a term between three months and five years, and a fine not exceeding Rs. 500,000.

Under the category of weapon systems, weapons and ammunition, military aircrafts, naval ships, armoured vehicles, artillery, naval and air defence guns, aircraft guns and accessories, missiles and rockets, all types of grenades, all types of firearms, pistols, machine guns, automatic rifles, 40 mm grenade launchers, 40 mm RPGs and mortars (60mm, 81 and 82mm) have been listed as prohibited items and equipment.

Armoured vehicle spares, submerged vehicles or underwater vehicles, explosive detection equipment, digital jamming devices, infrared illuminators, GPS equipment, inclusive of aviation GPS and laser designators have been prohibited under the category miscellaneous items and spares. Laser Range Finders and Radar Range Finders and Thermal Image Devices are also in this list of prohibited items that, however, could be procured with Defence ministry approval.

Under special equipment, all types of radars and radar spares, all types of parachutes, night vision devices and beta lights, while all types of military switches used for booby traps and IEDs and ISF electric and ISF percussion igniter switches have been prohibited. The list could be further enlarged by the Defence Secretary in the interest of national security, preservation of public order and the maintenance of essential services and supplies.

So, it appears that the government is leaving no stone unturned to throttle the Tigers in every conceivable sphere, and is going hammer and tongs, to defeat the LTTE on all fronts.

Alive to the fact that the LTTE, taking a beating on the battle field, is likely to turn its guns on key defence and economic installations in areas outside the north and east, the Government has set up high security zones (HSZ) around key places such as the Colombo Port, the Katunayake International Airport and the adjacent Sri Lanka Air Force base, to name a few HSZs. The Government has set up these HSZs under ERs promulgated recently. (See Katunayake HSZ map).

Army draws first blood in Wanni
Militarily, this has been a significant week, as the security forces launched separate operations on what has been an impregnable forward defence line (FDL) along the Kilali-Muhamali-Nagakovil axis.

The military claims that 20 Tigers were killed as against two soldiers, in the pre dawn attack on Kilali, when small groups of soldiers from the 4 CLI, broke into the area and destroyed eight bunkers.

The LTTE, however, concedes the deaths of four Tigers and claims an unknown number of dead soldiers were removed by the military, which returned to base after three hours of fighting. The pre dawn attack on Sunday at Nagarkovil, where the military is quite strong, did not produce the desired results, while five Tigers were killed in another attack on the Muhamalai FDL. Intercepted LTTE messages revealed that an LTTE area leader Ravi disappeared during the confrontation.

The LTTE is trapped in an area of 6,500 sq. kms., due to the ongoing operations by the security forces. The Tiger strength is in the region of 3,000 cadres, including 1,800 on Jaffna FDLs along this axis, and 1,200 Sea Tigers.
The August 11 and October 11 attacks last year by the Tigers and the security forces respectively, saw each side that attacked first pay the bigger price.

This week, the attacks by the security forces, were swift and as a result, the casualty count was far below that observed on either side, in the two major attacks last year.

The LTTE is blaming the army for initiating the ground attack with battle tanks, in Kilali, while the army maintains that the Tigers fired 120mm and 81 mm mortar rounds during the attack.

The attacks up north, were launched Sunday, despite setbacks in Thampanai, in Mannar, till late Saturday (22), when the Tigers rained artillery and mortars and attacked the military’s FDLs killing Captain Alagiyawanna and three soldiers and injuring 32 more. Several Tiger cadres were also killed during the confrontation, and the military claims it captured three bunkers.

The security forces had broken into the FDL in Periythampane, from the direction of Vilathikulam. The battle was co-coordinated by Wanni Special Forces Commander Maj. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya and Brig. Jagath Dias, on the instructions of Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The eastern flank of the A-9 Road, was guarded by the newly created 57 Brigade that faced a major debacle recently and subsequently, came under Jagath Rambukpotha. The army had advanced about two kms. beyond Periyathampanai, since March this year, when operations in the Mannar region commenced.

Meanwhile, the Army Chief had earmarked another operation on Monday, to target the LTTE in the Giant Tank area, popularly called Yodhawewa in the Mannar region. The second Commando Brigade and the 10 Gajaba Regiment were deployed for the attack. According to battle plans, the elite forces and the infantry troops were detailed to capture a row of bunkers west of Yodhawewa area, from where the LTTE launched attacks on security forces and vehicles on the Vavuniya- Mannar main supply route. Amidst stiff resistance, the security forces managed to capture seven bunkers during the battle.

Three soldiers were killed and 22 others injured in the confrontation, when security forces stormed the LTTE bunkers, killing around 30 Tigers. Capt. Thushara Wettasinghe lost a leg when he stepped on an anti personnel mine. Capt. Wettasinghe, a valiant officer, was awarded the Veera Vikrema Vibhushana for his galantry during the Thoppigala battle.

Strategies and Tactics
The modus operandi of the security forces was likely to succeed in the Mannar region via the Wanni jungles, but in approaching the northern Jaffna FDLs, a new approach may have to be devised.

The military began its operations by systematically clearing the Tigers off their habitat. Initially, small groups, including elite forces, penetrated the jungles. This is in contrast to previous efforts of sending battle tanks and columns of soldiers, who were vulnerable.
This ‘Eelam War IV’ saw the military put its artillery, mortar launchers and multi barrel rocket launchers into good use, while ground troops specialized in jungle warfare, penetrated Tiger territory.

Military aircraft kept pounding rebel positions and destroying Tiger assets with the support of ground and electronic surveillance.
Even last week, as we reported, air sorties were carried out on an LTTE base consisting of large arms and ammunition dumps, which had also harboured the special Imran Pandiyan “regiment” of the Tigers.

Navy rules the waves
On the part of the Navy, on several occasions, Fast Attack Craft (FACs) have intercepted Tiger craft carrying reinforcements and supplies, while Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) have helped destroy Tiger vessels laden with arms and ammunition. This was the case just a fortnight back, with three ships destroyed in the space of 24-hours.

This week, the Navy, on Thursday (27), launched an attack on a flotilla of Sea Tiger boats from Nayaru area cruising towards Podwakattu. During the confrontation, in the sea off Trincomalee, the Navy destroyed three Sea Tiger craft, killing an unknown number of cadres onboard. A naval rating was killed and several others injured in this battle that lasted nearly four hours.

All out War on Terror
With the Navy destroying nearly a dozen LTTE ships loaded with arms and ammunition, the government has also moved to cripple the LTTE’s procurement of weapons, weapons systems, spares and ammunition at the first instance, by introducing new ERs.

Internationally, too, the Tigers procurement mode has been placed on low gear after a spate of arrests of LTTE operatives in the US, UK, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and France, among other countries.
On the ‘KP’ affair, this is how Senpathi reported on September 16:

“Top officers in the Sri Lankan Defence establishment are convinced that the Americans, who conducted an undercover sting operation, had planned to take it to its logical conclusion.”…
“In August 2006, the FBI netted in 11 people, including Sri Lankans and foreigners, involved in procuring weapons. But, they had deliberately kept out Pratheepan Thavarajah’s name in the press release, for fear that he would become a fugitive.

The US, which has been working closely with the Indonesian authorities, was able to take over Thavarajah, who was grilled by Indonesian authorities for a week. Some officers feel, a similar pattern would befall Kumaran Pathmanathan, as the US authorities would want to get at the bottom of the LTTE network. This would help unravel the network of other terrorist organizations, they believe.”

As expected, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during his address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, was quick to connect the local efforts to root out terrorism, with the international campaign to uproot the menace.

“Terrorism anywhere is terrorism. There is nothing good in terrorism. Sri Lanka has taken an upfront position in the global community’s efforts to deal with terrorism. We have become party to 11 out of 13 UN Conventions for the suppression of the various acts of terrorism,” said President Rajapaksa.

Though the President made a boast of signing 11 of the 13 UN Conventions on terrorism, he may have forgotten the international fall out just last September, after a five-member Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the Sinharasa application based on the UNHCR determination on his case. (Please see relevant box story)


Sucking the finger that feeds

The Sri Lankan delegation to Geneva, at the sixth session of the Human Rights Council (HRC), not only managed to prevent the Resolution being tabled against Sri Lanka, it also ensured that it was not kept hanging over the country’s head.
When the sessions ended this week, there was nothing pending against Sri Lanka, but at the same time, there was no question of the Resolution being withdrawn.

As we said in a previous column, the government is practical in its thinking, and even though it was confident that it could defeat a Resolution against the country, at the HRC, it did not want a vote to be taken. The reason: It would need the members of the European Union (EU) for future aid and assistance.
The delegation did not want to be seen, on the one hand, fighting the EU at the HRC, and the country, on the other hand, going to this important block for aid.

This week, three urgent Bills considered inconsistent with the Constitution, were referred to the Supreme Court for determination.
The move was also meant to satisfy the international community, particularly, the EU, which had already decided to grant Duty Free concessions to Sri Lanka, via the General Preference System Scheme (GSP+), that was coming up for review in 2008.
This benefits the country’s garment sector, which accounts for about 50% of the country’s total exports. The concession GSP+ Scheme applicable to vulnerable countries with special developmental needs such as Sri Lanka, will cover around 7,200 products, which can enter the EU duty free.

When President Rajapaksa, addressing the UN General Assembly sessions on Wednesday, said that Sri Lanka has signed 11 of the 13 UN Conventions on Terrorism, he may have forgotten the international fall out last September, following the Supreme Court dismissal of the Sinharasa application (based on the UNHCR determination on his case).
The Supreme Court stated that that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) had no legal effect in respect of Sri Lankan citizens, even though the island is a signatory to the ICCPR.

The reason given was that the ICCPR was not incorporated into Sri Lanka’s Constitution as a normal law. In fact, the international community has observed at international for a, that the government has signed many international covenants but, they have not been ratified or given legal effect after the Supreme Court determination on the Sinharasa case.
So the government went before the Supreme Court this week with three urgent Bills, to ascertain whether they were consistent with the Constitution.

One Bill was titled “Convention Against Illicit Traffic In Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances” and the second was “Drug Dependant Persons (Treatment and Rehabilitation) and a third titled, “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to make it a law of the country.”

In the last Bill mentioned, Additional Solicitor General (ASG) P.A. Ratnayake, Deputy Solicitor General Shavindra Fernando P.C., Senior State Counsel Nerin Pulle and State Counsel Mahen Goppallawa appeared for the Attorney General.
The Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices Nihal Jayasinghe, N.E. Dissanayake and Jagath Balapatabendi, however, found some clauses inconsistent with the Constitution, according to its determination.

The Bench observed that Clause 7 of the Bill, which vests in the High Court (HC) jurisdiction over the enforcement of Human Rights recognized by the Act, would be inconsistent with Article 126 of the Constitution, which vests the sole and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine any infringement or imminent infringement of any Fundamental Rights provided for in Chapter III and IV of the Constitution.

However, the Bench maintained that the said inconsistency would cease if the jurisdiction conferred on the HC to hear and determine petitions on an alleged infringement or imminent infringement of the Rights referred to under Section 2, 4 and 5, and is amended, whereby, to state that the jurisdiction of the HC is limited and it could adjudicate on the residual Rights that are not within the authority Chapter III and IV of the Constitution, in regard of which the sole and exclusive jurisdiction is vested in the Supreme Court, under Article 126 of the Constitution.

ASG Ratnayake agreed to amend Clause 7 of the Bill, to ensure that Article 126 is not violated by providing a procedure for the HC to hear and determine the rights conferred by Clauses 2,4, 5 and 6 of the Bill.

The Bill seeks to confer Statutory Rights, to give effect to the Civil and Political rights referred to by the ICCPR. Clause 2 recognises the Rights of every person to be recognized as a person before the law, while Clause 3 of the Bill provides that no person shall propagate war or advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

Should this Bill be passed, as is likely to happen, propagating war or advocating national, racial or religious hatred by any group- the LTTE or any other chauvinistic party- the act could become an offence under the normal law of the land.