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Military Matters


 

Next stop MULLAITIVU

Weli Oya, since its creation, has always had the potential for “wali” or fights, given the ethnic tensions in the region, with claims and counterclaims to land, made by Sinhalese and Tamil villagers.

To the Tamils, it’s Manal Aru, and the LTTE, more than six months back, warned of a military build up in the area by the Army.

Prior to that, it was the Military that entertained fears of the Tigers attacking camps and villages in Weli Oya, by sending reinforcements through the jungles of Kokkuttoduvai, a sparsely populated area.

Apart from possible military reversals, an attack on villages could have tremendous political fallout in Colombo, it was opined.

‘Fortress’ Weli Oya
As the Military had identified Weli Oya as a probable target, and given that Kebithigollewa was attacked twice in 2006 and 2007, a 25-km bunker line from west of the Padaviya tank to Kebithigollewa, was constructed, to prevent raids on villages in Weli Oya.

From Atalwetunuwewa, another 15-km bunker line up to Padaviya and a 25-km line running via Kebithigollewa up to Dutuwewa were already in place.

Last year, a Medawachchiya-Janakapura bus was blasted at Kebithigollewa by a claymore mine, killing 15 civilians. In May, 2006, another claymore mine ripped through a bus in Kebithigollewa, killing some 65 persons.
Another 5-km fortified bunker line was constructed last year between Janakapura and Kokkuttoduvai. This is in addition to the 20-km bunker line that was already there from Janakapura to Atalwetunuwewa.

Weli Oya then…
It is almost 15 years back that the LTTE overran the Janakapura army camp in Weli Oya on July 25, 1993 and withdrew under 24 hours. In November 1999, the Tigers captured Gajabapura, while attacking Oddusudan and Mankulam, courtesy Operation Unceasing Waves, and has since held on to this camp.

This columnist, along with another journalist, made the trek to Janakapura, named after Maj .Gen. Janaka Perera, for an on-the-spot coverage published in The Sunday Times of August 1, 1993.

The then Joint Operations Command Chief Hamilton Wanasinghe and then Army Commander Cecil Waidyaratne visited the area along with Rehabilitation Minister P. Dayaratne and Mahaweli and Lands Minister Gamini Atukorale.

“The entire village has been abandoned by Janakapura settlers, contrary to reports reaching Colombo. The settlers are now housed at the nearby Nikawewa Maha Vidyalaya. But for the senior officers in the area, mapping out strategies to enable the resettlement of villagers takes priority. In fact, that was one of the main topics taken up, when military top brass and two cabinet ministers visited Weli Oya.,” we said in the report that concluded thus:

“ ... The mood among the junior officers was more one of anger. For them an end to the war was a crying need and they seemed frustrated over the lackluster approach to the war... The moods may differ from one rank to the other in Weli Oya. But there is one common goal for all - protecting and preserving the carved out area - “ Weli Oya” - that forms part of four districts - Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Anuradhapura - separating the contiguous land of the North from the East.”

And now
Today, the Army is upbeat in Weli Oya that is a part of three provinces, with a nearly 60-km bunker line and the creation on November 16, last year, of a separate offensive division for the forward thrust from Weli Oya.
Brig. Nanda Uduwatte (Armoured Corps) was appointed General Officer Commanding (GOC) and Brig. P.W.B. Jayasundera (Artillery) was named Deputy GOC of the Division.

Three mobile brigade commands were also established under Lt. Col. A.S. Ariyasinghe (Artillery) (591), Lt. Col. H.M. Peter Silva (Sinha) (592) and Lt. Col. K.H.P.P. Fernando (Sinha) (593).
This is in addition to the static holding brigade commands in Weli Oya (223) and Janakapura (224) under Area Commander Brig. Mohan Jayawardena.

Mid last year, the security forces attacked Gajabapura killing LTTE “Lieutenant” Eniyawan while injuring Welioya military wing leader Kumaran. The duo was riding a motorcycle to inspect the forward defence lines at Weli Oya, at the time of the attack. The LTTE replaced Kumaran with Chintrangan, as the military wing leader of the area.

The way to Mullaitivu
The target is Mullaitivu, and the military has a few options.
The Paranthan-Mullaitivu Road, running through Kilinochchi, is one option. Columns could advance from Jaffna via Kilinochchi, to reach Mullaitivu.

The second option is from Mankulam, on the Jaffna-Kandy Road, to Mullaitivu. The third is from Puliyankulam to Mullaitivu. During Operation Jaya Sikurui, the Army captured Nedunkerni, a key junction on the Puliyankulam-Mullaitivu Road. But, eventually, the Army lost Nedunkerni, and initially, has to re-capture this junction, which is no easy task.

The LTTE is alive to how Jaya Sikurui planned to link up at Pulliyankulam from Omanthai and Nedunkerni, and take Mankulam. Later linking up at Kilinochchi. Simultaneous columns were to move north-eastwards and south-eastwards to take Mullaitivu. Let alone taking Pulliyankulam, the Army lost Nedunkerni, and has to now go the whole hog again.

The Army could go through Nedunkerni through Oddusudan to Mullaitivu, but there would be stiff resistance, as the columns advance and heavy fighting is bound to take place along this route. Nedunkerni, Kanagarayanakulam, Ampagamam and so on were overrun in 1999.

The fourth road, used by fishermen, along the coast from Pulmoddai through Kokilai and Kokkuttoduvai up to Mullaitivu, is about 40 km, is not all that motorable. However, the capture of the coastal area from Pulmoddai upwards, will further restrict the LTTE’s chances of smuggling weapons. The eastern coast from Pullmodai downwards has already been cleared.
This week troops attacked LTTE bunkers in the Kokkuttoduvai on three occasions within a day (06), killing two Tigers and injuring nine more, signaling its intent.

Attack and withdraw
The Military is repeating what it has been doing along the Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagar Kovil Axis, attacking and withdrawing, as part of its war of attrition.

But, it is possible that the Tigers are not fielding their hardcore cadres, and instead, are having greenhorns as cannon fodder. The hardcore cadres may be reserved till the Military wears out and the real battles begin. The battles will be fought for longer periods with the army on the offensive and the LTTE defending. The casualty rate is likely to be high, and apart from strategy, numbers would matter. Both sides are on unprecedented recruitment drives.

Security forces fighting the war must be afforded relief and respite, lest fatigue set in at the wrong time.

Army holds upper hand
Right now, the morale of the troops is high, while the same cannot be said of the Tigers, who, however, have proved thus far to be able to resist the troops on four fronts, fighting mostly a defensive war using conventional means to defend territory.
As the Military has been dictating terms and calling the shots for a considerable period of time, the Tigers have now ceased to hold the initiative, not so much in the theatre of war, but in adjacent districts in places such as Buttala, Dambulla and, this week, in Weli Oya.

Tiger sideshows
The Tigers placed a claymore mine not even 400 m from the Weli Oya 223 Brigade Headquarters and the Kobbekaduwa-Wimalaratne T-junction. The bus plying the Anuradhapura- Janakapura route, caught the blast.

Like in Buttala and Dambulla, schools were closed in the Padaviya and Weli Oya areas, following this blast. (See also box story).
Prior to this blast, there was one in Abimanapura in Padaviya and another at Yakawewa, all in the greater Weli Oya area, in quick succession. This may be an indication that the Tigers have infiltrated Weli Oya, to ensure instability in the region, as well as cause the occasional diversionary tactics, as troops are poised for action.

The Tigers have resorted to these actions to possibly turn the will of the people in the outstations against supporting the war. It could also mean that the Tigers are receiving a beating in the actual theatres of war and hence, trying to divert the attention of troops and possibly, have them withdrawn elsewhere.

The incidents in Weli Oya, including the firing of mortars at Sampathnuwara on Friday, might be a way of distracting troops poised towards taking Nedunkerni and Mullaitivu, an ambitious military plan, no doubt.

Tiger firepower
Unlike in previous phases of Eelam War, the LTTE has considerable artillery and mortar fire to stop advancing troops. In the attack on Sampathnuwara, the Army lost two soldiers while five others were injured. Mid last year, it rained artillery on Italwetunuwewa.

In the Wanni front, the Tigers have been putting up stiff resistance for nearly a year. The Army announced this week, that enemy defences south of the Adampan tank were crumbling. It is possible that the Tigers, whose morale is low, are crumbling under continuous pressure brought to bear on their formations. The Military has been maintaining that it was a matter of time before the LTTE defences would crumble in Madhu, which is not a strategically important town. The fall of Madhu, however, has a political significance.

Discretion better part of valour
But, the Military must not rush in where angels fear to tread. As happened previously, the Tigers could tactically withdraw to allow the troops in, before cutting the tail and ambushing the soldiers in their numbers.

Operation Agni Kheeli and several others have resulted in such heavy casualties for utter indiscretion on the part of troops. So far, the Military has got its act together and, if it is to further its success, it has to ensure no major miscalculations are made. Notwithstanding the psy-operations, the military planners cannot afford to underestimate the Tigers’ capabilities.

****

War hits education

By Nabiha Ariff
A cloud of definite fear looms over the island, as families search in despair for a safe and peaceful place to live. Education is one of the most important milestones in a child’s life. If child’s school life is disrupted, then his education would also be affected adversely. When this happens, parents are left helpless and clueless as to what to do to help their children. They can only hope that with time, things will get back to normal.

“I don’t know if things will get worse in our island, or if it is just a passing phase. But of one thing we are certain: we can’t risk the lives of our children”, said a parent, Mohideen. He further added that some parents wanted to send their children abroad, so that they will have a safer and more peaceful life.

Another parent said that every time her children stepped outside the house, a sense of fear gripped her as she was uncertain whether they would return home. “This daily fear troubles our minds,” said the parent.

The Nation also spoke to teachers from various schools who expressed their concern for their students and their future studies.
“We just hope that it doesn’t continue this way, because each term is of great importance to the student,” said a senior teacher from one of the leading government schools. She added that students can’t afford to miss days or weeks of school work because it takes time for the child to get back to their studies.

Several other teachers told The Nation that due to all these disruptions in eduction, a conducive atmosphere for education could not be expected. However she advised parents not to give up.

“It’s understandable for parents to despair at the moment. But there is no reason to panic too much. Schools will be run as before,” said the Vice Principal of an international school.

Principal of D. S. Senanayake, A.S. Hewage too allayed the fears of parents
“It is only for a short period of time that the government had closed the schools,”, he said..

Education Media Secretary, J. Delpagoda assured that schools had been asked to close down for only a week due to security reasons, keeping in mind concerns for the general public.
“We have not asked any school to close down. It is just a matter of time, so there should be no reason to panic,” said Delpagoda.

Royal College Principal, Upali Gunasekera said schools have no choice but to obey government orders.
“We will have shorter vacations and work harder,” said Gunasekera adding that there is nothing else that could be done.
“No one wants to see tragedies such as the bombing at Fort Railway Station, being repeated. Thus measures are being taken,” said Gunasekera.

The government’s decision to ban all inter-school sports competitions has also caused a definite shock to most students..
“ I love the game of cricket. Studying all day can be boring sometimes, so playing cricket relieves me from the tension of either an upcoming exam, tests, or homework”, said Sajith Gunarathne an O Level student.

“The deteriorating situation of the country has come to such an extent that it is now reaching out to young students as well,” complained Sajith’s mother. She said that after the blasts in buses, stations and several other public places, the mentality of a young child is disturbed; they begin to fear outings or public places.

However, it’s not just a certain segment of population that is going through this crisis; the island on the whole is now under a black cloud and hoping it would disappear sooner or later.

****

Security checks: A necessary evil’?

By Sarashi Samarasinghe
It is not uncommon that a person leaves a security checkpoint more often than not, feeling disgruntled and annoyed. This is not so much because of the inconvenience of having to stop by the road, but mostly due to the manhandling of their personal belongings by the security personnel at the checkpoints.

Although their consent is sought, most of the time, there are occasions where the personal baggage is opened, without even informing the owner.

Whether it is legally permitted for security personnel to open personal baggage of passengers on the public road, is one of the most important concerns of the public at present.

“It is permissible to check personal belongings, upon reasonable suspicion,” says STF Commandant Nimal Lewke.
He explained that besides the Police having full authority to check a person’s personal belongings, under Emergency Regulations, the Military too has the authority to conduct such searches.

He added that the main purpose of conducting random checks was to ensure public security, and as well as national security.
Lewke was of the opinion that extensive checking cannot be termed as harassment of the public, since the intention of the search is to protect the people and not to harass them.

“Individual checking is the best,” Lewke explained.
He noted that Sri Lanka being a Third World country cannot afford to introduce sophisticated mechanisms to search personal baggage.

“Sri Lanka cannot afford scanners and other digital equipment to search for explosives and other suspicious belongings, as used by developed countries. When it comes to our country, using such sophisticated equipment is not practical, as they are not affordable,” Lewke opined.

He also stressed on the importance of deploying trained security personnel to checkpoints, instead of sending untrained novices.
“For an example, the incident that took place at the Nugegoda NOLIMIT superstore, occurred because of an inexperienced officer,” he added.

Another important concern about random checking was that in the case of a genuine suspect, there was often the possibility of an explosion occurring, when security personnel were attempting to search his/her personal belongings.
“Personal supervision is quite dangerous. Upto date we have faced many difficulties to provide security to the public,” Lewke said.

The STF Commandant appealed to the public to cooperate with the security forces since the security measures are not there to harass the public, but to safeguard the country.

Kalyani Goonesekara, a teacher from Tangalle had this to say:
“It is good that the baggage are being checked. Our kids go to school and we are scared until they return home. Checking our belongings is a good thing in terms of ensuring our safety. But it can be quite embarrassing when personnel from the security forces try to open our bags. We are ever willing to cooperate with them and open our own bags for them to inspect,” said the teacher.

Human Rights Commission Additional Secretary – Legal Nimal G. Punchihewa was also of the opinion that there is no problem with regard to checking personal belongings at checkpoints by the security personnel. He said that there is also a Supreme Court order permitting inspection at checkpoints but it should be done in a way not to inconvenience the public, or violate their privacy.
“Sometimes we have seen that even the security forces don’t act according to the Supreme Court order. Anyway, we have already made Police officers aware of the regulations,” Punchihewa explained.

He added that the Commission had discussions with officers of 72 police stations island-wide last month and made them aware of the regulations with regard to checking personal baggage at checkpoints.

“The Human Rights Commission instructed the officers that they should train the new officers on handling inspections and how to check baggage without violating personal dignity,” Punchihewa explained.

The Commission has set up a hotline, which is open to public inquiries, all 24 hours of the day and 365 days of the year.
“ However, we have not received many complaints as yet from the Colombo district regarding this matter, but there were two complaints reported from Kandy, where ladies handbags were checked by male officers at a check point,” said Punchihewa.

He also said that the security officers should be aware of the regulations and should understand that their duty must not cause harassment to the public, and that they should be able to obtain the cooperation of the public, when carrying out searches.

Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said he is unable to comment on the matter since there is a court order.
“The security forces should be able to carry out their duties without inconveniencing the public,” Minister Samarasinghe however added.

****