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Military Matters


 

                                                                               Heroes’ Day Message                                                                            

FOR WHOM AND FOR WHAT?

                                                                                                                                                                                                 

“Gleaning through past Great Heroes’ Day messages, two of the underlying themes have been Sinhala racism and chauvinism (repeated every year from 1992 – 2006) and a south divided on what it could offer the Tamils as a political solution.
He is not completely wrong in the way we see southern political parties abrogating agreements.
He was likely to say that what the SLFP has come up with — the district as the unit of devolution — was rejected as far back as 1981. In the 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, the province became the unit of devolution. It was after that was rejected that the LTTE agreed with the UNF to pursue a federal solution as per the Oslo Declaration.
Prabhakaran would harp on the UNP’s announcement a few months back that it was not for a federal solution.”

On Tuesday (27), LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran will deliver his Great Heroes’ Day Message. No doubt, the message, over the past decade or so, has been treated as the annual policy statement of the organisation, vis-à-vis the government of the day.
His last two statements lacked significance.
In 2005, when he made the statement, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had just assumed office, thanks to Prabhakaran himself for enforcing a ban on voting by Tamils under his control.

Also, the Tiger Leader, who pulled out of talks with the previous UNF government headed by Ranil Wickremesinghe and forced it out of office by proposing the far reaching Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA), had to give the new Leader time.

A year later, a week before his speech, it was reported that the Experts’ Panel of the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) was going to announce its proposals shortly.

Prabhakaran didn’t like the dual-track policy and made it clear in his address.

From a position of weakness…
The question is, will Prabhakaran, on Tuesday, call for peace talks? The answer is a resounding “NO.” He is likely to declare how his organisation has prevented the mighty military from regaining an inch of land from the Wanni or the north.
Six weeks after the military faced a major debacle at Muhamalai, this is what Prabhakaran said last year of the previous bout of peace talks.

“We created a strong foundation for peace efforts by unilaterally declaring a ceasefire (2001). ...We did not undertake these efforts from a position of weakness. We had recaptured the Wanni mainland and the Iyakkachchi-Elephant Pass military complex. We had beaten back ‘Operation Fire’ (Agni Kheeli) of the Sinhala military. We carried out great military feats in the history of our struggle. It was from this position of strength that we undertook this peace effort.

“The situation was just the opposite in the south. The south had faced defeat after defeat and was losing its will to face war. Its military had lost its backbone. The economy was very shaky. It was only under such conditions that the Sinhala nation agreed for peace talks.”

However, this year, he would not have the same moral high ground to stand on, owing to the 360 degree military turn. Nevertheless, the country is at the crossroads economically, politically and internationally.
As for the LTTE, military wise, the ground reality is the worst in the past 15 years.

A resilient enemy
The military has been able to retain Jaffna, while clearing the entire east. But, it must be said that the Tigers, fighting a defensive war, have been able to successfully defend its line at the Kilali-Muhamali-Nagarkovil axis, despite two major military operations (October 11, 2006 and November 7, 2007). The LTTE Leader is likely to dwell on how his organisation was able to withstand the might of the military.

The Tigers, no doubt, have lost bunkers and cadres in the limited military operations, while their own attempt on August 11, last year, to overrun the army line, failed.

What about the Wanni? The military again has failed to effectively penetrate and capture key Tiger locations, despite more than a dozen efforts from various directions, after the 57 Strike Div. was created in January this year.

As the year draws to a close, last week, a new 59 Div. was created in Weli Oya, suggesting that a new front would be opened soon.

It would have been better if both divisions had opened fronts simultaneously, like during the Jaya Sikurui operation, where Gen. Vasantha Perera led 53 Div. from the Weli Oya side westwards towards the A9 and up along this highway up to Kanarankulam and Pulliyankulan until they wrested control of Mankulam, Olumadu and Oddusudan along the east west axis. But, courtesy, its Unceasing Waves III in 1999, the Tigers regained lost territory.

Parallel to General Vasantha Perera’s advance, Gen. Shantha Kottegoda successfully led 55 Div. from the northwest of Vavuniya in the Wanni heartland. The same strategy is being adopted to bypass places where the enemy is entrenched and to capture areas behind the enemy line, to render the entrenched places redundant and cut off supplies and reinforcements.

The LTTE still has intact its base in Mullaitivu, which it wrested control of in 1996, after conceding the peninsula in 1995, in the face of Operation Riviresa. The Tigers bounced back, culminating their Unceasing Waves offensive with the capture of Elephant Pass, the gateway to the peninsula, and proceeded until they were stopped in their tracks at the present northern FDLs in early 2000.

Apart from the army’s determination to hold on in 2000, the Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers, which were deployed along the Kashmir front, were speedily sent by Pakistan to push back the Tigers. For this and Pakistan’s continuous military support in several phases of the separatist war, successive governments have been grateful to Pakistan.

Quid pro quo
This current regime headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday showed extra gratitude to Pakistan in its hour of need. Even the chief opposition UNP castigated Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama for agreeing with the rest of the Commonwealth at the summit in Uganda, that Pakistan be suspended from its membership. President Rajapaksa, in a subsequent statement, sided with incumbent Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff. The Cabinet too, pledged support for Pakistan.

Apart from a top official from the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo, making the appeal, the cash-strapped government fighting a fierce war, is pleased that the current administration in Islamabad is not pressing for hard cash urgently. (In the case of China, however, spot cash was required, as the government was dealing with corporations).
The whole diplomatic faux pas only suggested how dependent the government was on Pakistan, in particular, and external support in general.

Friends of Lanka
The US government too, has militarily supported this administration more than any previous ones. This has been in terms of concrete military help and indirect support via clamping down on the LTTE’s international weapons purchasing, courtesy its sting operations. The investigations are not restricted to the US but worldwide, leading to the arrest of top Tiger operatives. Also, LTTE fund raising in the US received its biggest blow last week, with the freezing of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) assets running into millions of dollars. The message was not just to the LTTE but to the Tamil diaspora in the US, that any financial contributions cannot be made to TRO or to any perceived LTTE front organisation.

US Ambassador Robert Blake made it clear that this action was not against the Tamil people but the LTTE, making the distinction clear.

The LTTE is keeping its diaspora informed through several websites, including www.pathivu.com. Meanwhile, another counter website www.athirady.com has been highlighting atrocities committed by the LTTE.

Former Tamil militant parties, opposed to the LTTE and operating overseas, are planning to organize demonstrations against the LTTE on November 27. They have also listed the killings of their members by the LTTE, and have approached the Defence Ministry to obtain names and pictures of people slain by the LTTE in the south.

The Indian Navy has been sharing intelligence with its counterparts here, helping destroy several Tiger arms ships.
The Central government, which has granted Sri Lanka a US$ 100 million credit line at very low interest, for military purchases, finally agreed to provide certain offensive weapons.

Thorn across the Palk Strait
But, the 18-month old war, has managed to change the stance of a section of the population in Tamil Nadu towards the LTTE. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has been openly critical of the government across the Palk Strait. Various southern Tamil parties have openly supported the LTTE in recent months. Manufacturing plants for ball bearings used in making bombs, were detected, while trawlers carrying weapons and ammunition, have slipped into the country via the Palk Strait.

Nevertheless, the biggest detection was made on October 11, when three container loads of material used in the manufacture of Tiger boats was found. The supplier was traced to one Gokulan based in Norway, while the name of Jeyarajaratnam, a member of a prominent Tamil Nadu political party, has surfaced.

It is in this overall backdrop, that Prabhakaran will be making his 2007 Great Heroes’ Day speech on Tuesday evening.
He is likely to castigate the international community for its double standards in pointing out the government’s human rights abuses and at the same time supporting it militarily. At the same time, he has worked the diaspora to do all in its power to woo the international community against this government and in favour of a besieged Tamil community.

Heroes’ Day rhetoric
Besides the advancing army in these entrenched areas, the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) has being wreaking havoc with its precision strikes.

Given the improved technology and accuracy of the SLAF, Prabhakaran was likely to hold his Maveerar Day celebrations on a low key in the safest possible location.

The killing of S.P. Thamilselvan, the Political Wing Head of the LTTE, by the SLAF, would be interpreted as the ‘chauvinistic’ government’s aversion towards a political solution to the Tamil problem.

But, unfortunately, this argument would not hold water, as the LTTE was also guilty of killing two Tamil non combatants who upheld a political solution as the only way out. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and Deputy Peace Secretariat Chief Kethesh Loganathan, were both killed- the first, during peace times and the second, when the undeclared war had just begun.

Gleaning through past Great Heroes’ Day messages, two of the underlying themes have been Sinhala racism and chauvinism (repeated every year from 1992 – 2006) and a south divided on what it could offer the Tamils as a political solution.
He is not completely wrong in the way we see southern political parties abrogating agreements.

He was likely to say that what the SLFP has come up with — the district as the unit of devolution — was rejected as far back as 1981. In the 1987 Indo-Lanka Peace Accord, the province became the unit of devolution. It was after that was rejected that the LTTE agreed with the UNF to pursue a federal solution as per the Oslo Declaration.

Prabhakaran would harp on the UNP’s announcement a few months back that it was not for a federal solution. He would use this to destroy the image of Wickremesinghe who has internationally earned a name for himself as a national leader ready to go the extra mile to resolve the Tamil national question.

The LTTE, which has been avoiding civilian targets in the past several months, would try to appease the international community, by making a case for separation as the only alternative in the face of an unrelenting Sinhala majority, unwilling to devolve political power with the Tamil-speaking minority.

This is what he said in 1999: “The two major Sinhala political parties, who have assumed political power alternatively in the Sri Lankan political system, are essentially chauvinistic organisations. Both these political parties have bred and flourished in the anti-Tamil Sinhala Buddhist racist ideology. For the last half a century, these parties competed with each other in intensifying the oppression against the Tamil people.”

This year, too, he will try to make out that all successive governments, including Wickremesinghe’s UNF, failed to resolve the Tamil national question.

But, the international community, barring perhaps Norway, which has been closely monitoring the peace process, has a different picture of the LTTE, particularly because it failed to attend the June 10, 2003, Tokyo Donor Conference, despite several international pleas.

How the LTTE blocked the people from voting at the presidential election, depriving Wickremesinghe of the presidency is another reality the international community cannot still come to grips with.

His enunciated policy is sometimes poles apart from that actually pursued by the Tiger Chief.
For instance, on November 27, 2004, almost four weeks after the LTTE forwarded the ISGA proposals to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prabhakaran made a pertinent observation in his Great Heroes’ Day statement.

“His (Ranil’s) government viewed our proposals as different from their drafts, yet it agreed to resume peace talks on that basis, whereas the SLFP outrightly condemned our interim administrative framework as the foundation for a separate Tamil state,” said Prabhakaran.

Playing the ISGA card
After pulling out of talks in April 2003, if Prabhakaran, who insisted that ISGA should be the basis for talks with the UNF government and continued this stance with the United People’s Freedom Alliance elected in April 2004, why did he deprive Wickremesinghe of the 2005 presidency, by enforcing a boycott on Tamils in uncleared areas.

Actually, the ISGA proposals gave President Chandrika Kumaratunga a handle to take over three ministries, including Defence, from Wickremesinghe’s government and precipitated the dissolution of Parliament, ensuring the SLFP’s return to office.

Seven months later, this is what Prabhakaran said in his Great Heroes’ Day message:
“Though there was a change of government in southern Sri Lanka and chauvinistic forces were able to gain political power, we continued to observe ceasefire and wanted to promote the peace process. We informed the Freedom Alliance government of Chandrika Kumaratunga, through the Norwegian facilitators, that we were prepared to resume peace talks based on our proposal to set-up an ISGA.”

If he seriously wanted ISGA as the basis to resume talks, then he should have kept Wickremesinghe in office. Perhaps, Chandrika Kumaratunga may have agreed to have ISGA as the basis for talks. But, certainly not Mahinda Rajappaksa.

Days after Rajapaksa became President, this is what Prabhakaran said:
“We are all aware of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s thoughts and policies. We are also aware of the incompatible gaps and the irreconcilable contradictions that exist between Rajapaksa’s political vision and the Tamils’ struggle for self-determination. I do not wish to engage myself in a comparative analysis of this issue.”

“The recent presidential elections and the change in governance effected by the Tamil boycott have created a wide rift, politically, between the Tamil and Sinhala nations. While Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony has assumed predominance in the south, Tamil nationalism has emerged as a powerful force and consolidating itself in the Tamil homeland.”

Backing the wrong horse
It appears that the rift between Wickremesinghe and Prabhakaran and Kumaratunga and Prabhakaran were not wide enough to pursue the Tiger Chief’s final goal of separation, which he has vowed to continue and challenged his cadres to finish him off if he gave up the ultimate goal.

He needed a person like Rajapaksa as President, to twist the arm of the international community. But, he never bargained that there would be such single-mindedness in pursuing a military approach and that the government side would be so well equipped to prosecute this war.

In his November 27, 2004, speech, Prabhakaran threatened to resume war, obviously, not without ensuring sufficient stocks of arms and ammunition and ample cadres. Before a month could lapse, on December 26, the tsunami washed away his men and material, forcing him to postpone ‘Eelam War IV’ by more than a year. He gave the hawkish but ‘pragmatic’ President he created, less than half a year.

But, on November 27, 2003, how did he respond to the charges by Kumaratunga and the SLFP that the organisation was preparing for war?

“Our organisation, as well as our people, do not want war. We want peace and we want to resolve our problems through peaceful means. We are deeply committed to the peace process,” said Prabhakaran.

“There is absolutely no truth in President Kumaratunga’s accusation that we are preparing for war by procuring weapons, recruiting on a large scale and strengthening our military machine,” said Prabhakaran back in November 2003. Exactly a year back, in November 2002, coinciding with a round of peace talks, the LTTE was caught trying to smuggle in weapons. What about the two LTTE ships carrying weapons and ammunition destroyed in March and June 2003?

This war would be 25 years next July and the LTTE, which has alternated between war and peace during this period, would want to complete the silver jubilee as a milestone to attract international attention. But, before that, it would want to change the military equation considerably, on the ground.

Prabhakaran will be forced to kick his heels and dig in to prevent any further erosion in his military control until the right time to strike and the ripe time for his organisation’s efforts to bear fruit.

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MoD denies money for runway extension

Reference the article headlined, “Anuradhapura Air Base Probe Crash Lands” published in The Nation of November 18, 2007, Additional Secretary, W.W. Gamage has sent the following:

“As the week dawned, the news in the grapevine was that an Additional Secretary faced arrest. Payment to the contractors of the Maga Neguma project handling the Anuradhapura SLAF airbase runway extension, was passed by Additional Secretary Willie Gamage…”

Gamage states that the fact mentioned above is wrong. The Ministry did not approve any kind of payment in relation to the Anuradhapura SLAF airbase runway extension work.

****