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Military Matters


       POLLS BREAK FOR ARMY      

The run up to the Batticaloa District Local Government polls, to be conducted tomorrow, has been relatively peaceful. In fact, it has been more peaceful than the April 2004 General elections, with the LTTE on the rampage, in the wake of the split in its ranks. The Karuna faction broke away from the Wanni Tigers on March 2, 2004.

Last Sunday marked the 4th anniversary of Karuna’s defection.
Though Karuna Amman, the former military wing leader of the LTTE, is no longer in the scene in eastern Sri Lanka, his political and military contribution has caused a huge dent in the once monolithic organization- the LTTE.

Firstly, he challenged the LTTE with the regionalism card and sought to break the back of the organization by saying that, in the separatist war, Tamils in the East were deprived of top positions within the organization and simply treated as cannon fodder by the Wanni Tigers.

As if that was not enough, when Eelam War IV began, he shared secrets of the Tigers’ military strength, thinking, plans and counter plans and of course, helped fight them on familiar terrain. He played the role of a devil’s advocate in exchange for protection and security, which he forfeited when he was dispatched to London.

He is now under interrogation by the British Immigration office and the police and faces possible charges under international law.
However, Karuna’s legacy is the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) he founded with the support of Rehabilitation Minister and EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda.

Pillayan, the beneficiary
Now, led by Pillayan, the TMVP is expected to sweep the polls contested by 22 independent groups and six political parties, including the EPDP-PLOTE and EPRLF combine. A former PLOTE cadre was killed in KoKokodicholai three dsays back, instilling fear in the minds of voters and cacdidates.
Pillayan and Karuna’s former spokesman Azad Moulana, along with TMVP party officials, were in a closed-door meeting last night, hours before the election.

There are 4,200 election officials for a total of 270, 473 eligible voters, which works out to one official for every 65 voters, making it difficult for rigging, particularly, given that 6,425 police personnel have been placed on duty.

But, given the fears and uncertainties, it’s possible that there could be a low voter turnout, which of course provides an opportunity to stuff the ballot boxes, unless election department officials and the police, used for transporting the boxes, are not coerced into ‘conduct unbecoming’.

SLMC threatened
The SLMC candidates have been reportedly threatened by both TMVP and the LTTE for different reasons. The TMVP wants to grab as many seats and the LTTE was keen on demonstrating that it was a one-sided contest.

If the LTTE is still doted, it is possible that voters could deliberately spoil their votes, as a mark of protest. Protest for what, we may ask, as the people of the Batticaloa District, who have not seen development, either during times of war or peace, would be waiting for a return to normalcy and a better life.

The TMVP is certainly raring to go and is bound to do a job of work to win the hearts of the people and perhaps become a serious political party. They would want to be a responsible party, with eastern Tamil leaders ready to manage the affairs of their people, much to the chagrin of the LTTE.

It is for this reason that, even after nominations were called, one did not see armed TMVP cadres roaming the streets in February and even March, according to eyewitnesses.

UNP and TNA, the ultimate losers
If a free and fair election could be held, this would be a triumph for democracy. But, the fact that the main opposition UNP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are boycotting the election, giving the TMVP a walk over, seriously questions whether democracy is upheld and those elected are truly representative of the people. In other words, there is the possibility of a skewed representation. Who is to be blamed? It is the TNA and the UNP. These two parties should not have shirked their responsibility, come what may.

This will be to the disadvantage of the UNP and the TNA, should a general election follow. The ruling TMVP (even at local government level) would be at an advantage, as it would have the machinery at its disposal to face general elections, even though party funds would be meager.

Added to that, contesting the general elections in the first flush of the local polls victory, would give it an added impetus. The party would have the opportunity to prove to the people that it is industrious and could be trusted.

Perhaps, the TNA and the UNP could still contest a general election, with some hope, as what is expected of the local councilors is different from that of Members of Parliament or, for that matter, Provincial Councilors.

Even if a General election were to follow later, a Provincial Council (PC) election was very much on the drawing boards to set up the Eastern PC.

But, if a General election is held, in line with the thinking of President Rajapaksa and his advisors, such a move would further reduce the LTTE’s representation of Tamils through the TNA.

It is believed that a new alignment of Tamil parties and forces at the local, provincial and centre, would strengthen the SLFP.
The JVP, too, was likely to lose its clout, as its numbers would come down by a third. The JVP’s main platform to militarily defeat the Tigers, has been plundered by the SLFP. The SLFP and the Rajapaksa family, which, however, would have to face criticism on allegations of corruption and nepotism, removal of the Director General of the Bribery and Corruption outfit and failure to constitute the Constitutional Council and thereby, give effect to the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

TNA MPs under threat
The LTTE has already lost ground in the east and any further loss of political representation in there would seal the fate of the organization vis-ŕ-vis the east.

The TNA would also lose seats to the EPDP and PLOTE in the north and Mannar,. Prospective candidates of the TNA would think twice before entering the fray, given that, already, three TNA MPs and a fourth Tamil MP were gunned down, even before a General election was announced.

This week, Jaffna District TNA MP K. Sivanesan was killed in a claymore mine blast at Kanakarayankulam on the A-9 highway, between Puliyankulam and Mankulam, closer to the latter region. The LTTE blames the action on the Army’s deep penetration unit, while the military says the LTTE did it to bring the government into the bad books of the international community, even while the 7th Session of the Human Rights Council is in progress in Geneva. But, unwittingly, the LTTE does not realize that by accusing the Army of killing Sivanesan, it is conceding that the military is very close to Mankulam.
(See box story for more details)

Eleven weeks back, on December 16, Senpathi observed that events indicate that “General elections were on the cards, sooner than later.”
The SLFP, the main constituent of the ruling UPFA, would not want the Army to go all the way into Mullaitivu, once it reaches Mankulam.

Party stalwarts and strategists are aware that the military was routed in Mankulam and Oddusudan, more than nine years ago, in an operation that Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka himself participated along with two other Generals.
Alive to the fact that the LTTE had seven long years to prepare its defences in peace times and almost two years of undeclared war, government advisors and military planners could be tempted to take the serious bite, once it possibly wins a second term. Any major military rout, ahead of elections, in the last lap of this government, has the potential of ruining the main ruling party’s re-election bid.

Inching forward
After gaining a foothold in Adampan, the 12th Gemunu Watch on Tuesday launched a major offensive on LTTE groups led by Bhanu, to secure a kilometer stretch of land at Karukkankulam, north of Uyilankulam area.

The Army was engaged in heavy fighting in the Parappaankandal area in Mannar yesterday. The pro-LTTE website Tamilnet reported that heavy fighting occurred here yesterday, but the defence ministry website had not reported the incident, even though newspapers said that the area had been secured by the troops. However, neither side gave casualty figures, even though the LTTE reported that the Mannar-Medawachchiya Road was closed the whole morning for civilian traffic, as it was used for rushing ambulances to Anuradhapura.

The LTTE is offering heavy resistance in Mannar, but was likely to withdraw in the Madhu area, in the face of advancing troops.
The military plans to reach Mankulam on the A-9 Road, after securing Vidattaltivu from north of Mannar, where there is a decent road to this destination.

Meanwhile, 57 Division under Brig. Jagath Dias, was advancing in the direction of Madhu and Palampiddi, from where it hopes to extend it up to Puliyankulam, to force the Tigers operating north of the Madhu area, in the jungles beyond, to flee.
But, the LTTE leader in Mannar, Luxman, appears ready to do battle. He has ordered the withdrawal of women cadres from the Madhu jungle area and has now deployed male cadres to form a forward defence line linking Periyamadu, Palampiddi and Palaimoddai, to resistt the advancing forces. This is an admission that the security forces have advanced and an indication that pitched battles were likely sooner than later.

There would also be a forward thrust from Omanthai to Mankulam, in the days ahead. By bypassing the enemy, what the military plans to do is make areas south of the Vidattilativu- Mankulam line, redundant.
 
Madhu shrine in the way
The church authorities maintain they have no say over the jungle area of Madhu. They, however, are resisting any presence of the warring parties in the shrine area, saying that this was likely to attract artillery and direct fire from the other side, rendering the church vulnerable.

The shrine area is a very small area and is not occupied by the Tigers, but the 50-odd acres of jungle beyond the shrine area, is occupied by the Tigers. However, during four feasts, throughout the year, the Government Agent is permitted, by law, to take this area under church control, for the benefit of pilgrims who come from all parts of the island.

Meanwhile, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga’s acknowledgement to Mannar Bishop Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph’s letter, was received on Friday. The Mannar Bishop spoke to Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, ahead of the letter sent to President Rajapaksa dated February 20, but received six days later.

The letter was an urgent plea to maintain the sacred shrine of Madhu as a zone of peace. Previously, the Bishop, together with the Archbishop of Colombo, met President Rajapaksa along with the Madhu administrator Rev. Fr. Emil Emilanaspillai, on October 26, seeking to discuss the zone of peace in the sacred shrine area.

Mankulam memories linger
Once the Madhu shrine area and the jungle beyond are bypassed, and the entire Mannar area under the military as before, the security forces would like to take on the Tigers at Mankulam.
As the reserve strike forces advance, the holding divisions move up, but, given the high casualties figures announced by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, it could be a high-risk gamble for the government to conduct this operation in one go.
But, that would be no easy task. While time and money is on the Tigers’ side, morale and numbers are on the forces side, as of now. The Tigers have lost quite a number of its cadres, and are yet to prove their mettle in Eealm War IV. But, the military is not that better, by extending deadlines.

The government has no exit strategy, as the LTTE would demand the opening of the A-9 Road, to commence any form of negotiations, which the administration would not agree to. The LTTE would not want to come for talks at this juncture, as it has lost the east, even though it has proved to have the conventional capability to hold territory in the Wanni.
The next best option for the government would be to go for snap elections and receive a fresh mandate to carry on the war to a finish, as the Tigers have been greatly weakened.

****

                                                                   Passage to India                                                              

Army Commander Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, was away on a week-long crucial overseas visit to India from Sunday March 2, to strengthen military ties between the two countries.

“Militarily we have very good relationships for long time and we hope to continue relationships that we are having right now. We are very happy with that,” Lt General Fonseka said after a Guard of Honour outside the Defence Ministry.

Lt. Gen. Fonseka, who is accompanied by Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, pledged to defeat the LTTE at the earliest, but no deadlines were given.

Sri Lanka needs international support if it is to defeat the LTTE and is increasingly looking at China and Pakistan for weapons supply as India was reluctant to provide sophisticated arms.

General Fonseka visited Jammu and Kashmir on Monday to learn about Indian Army’s anti militancy operations and during his tour to areas close to the Line of Control (LoC) in north Kashmir he was briefed on anti-militancy measures by senior commanders of India’s northern command.

He also met his Indian counterpart General Deepak Kapoor, Air Force Chief Fali Homi Major and Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta and called on the Defence Minister A K Antony, and met with Defence Secretary Vijay Singh and National Security Adviser M K Narayanan.

****

Mahasivarathri slaying

Jaffna District Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP Kiddinan Sivanesan did his duty by Parliament by being present on Wednesday (5). As expected of the TNA, which does the bidding of the LTTE, he voted against the Emergency.Having, faithfully, done his duty, he was heading for Kilinochchi, the LTTE headquarters, for an urgent meeting with the political leadership. In fact, all TNA MPs had been summoned, but, given the short notice, 24-hours, except for Sivanesan, the rest skipped it.

With the Tigers losing the military side of its struggle, its political representatives had a greater role to play. They had to highlight the excesses of the security forces and the sufferings of Tamil civilians.

While the rest of the TNA MPs gave the meeting a slip, as they suspected that they were in for some stick, for failing to use their good offices to obtain a meeting with UN Assistant Secretary General Angela Kane, Sivanesan, nevertheless, dutifully headed for Kilinochchi.
It was Mahasivarathri Day. Even that had not discouraged him from doing his duty by the organisation.

Killed in the line of duty
“Sivanesan is a unique individual who functioned selflessly, honestly, and with courage. He was simple, courteous and loving. He was a sincere politician who possessed high ideals. He laboured tirelessly for the advancement and welfare of the workers,” said none other than LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, after, posthumously, conferring the LTTE’s highest civilian honour- ‘Maamanithar’ (great human being) title on the slain MP.

The 51-year-old MP, K. Sivanesan, leaves behind his wife and four children, two sons and two daughters. Before he took to politics, he was the General Manager, Northern Region Palm Development Co-op Society, between 1996 and 2004. He worked as an accountant at Jaffna Union of the Palm Development Cooperative Society and as Secretary, Federation of Popular Associations in Mallaavi, Wanni.

Sivanesan succumbed to his injuries on the way to Mankulam hospital, while his driver, Maheswararajah (27), from Cheddikulam in Vavuniya, was killed on the spot and a 13-year-old cyclist, Arulnaathan Louisnathan, injured in the attack on the A-9 Road.

A-9 is surely turning out to be the highway of death, but Sivanesan, who passed the Omantai entry-exit point, would never have imagined what was to befall him. As he passed Puliyankulam, and approached Mankulam, he probably would have contemplated the military battles ahead and the consequent deaths. As for his own death, it would not have crossed his mind.

The driver died instantly, when his vehicle caught the blast. Shortly, a vehicle arrived and sped off with the injured MP to Mankulam hospital. Along the way, the MP breathed his last.

Whodunit?
His death, like several others’ in this fourth Eelam War, has been shrouded in mystery, of whodunit.
The Army claims the LTTE killed him, possibly to embarrass the government fighting a difficult human rights war. The LTTE immediately pointed a finger at the Army’s deep penetration unit. The fact is that the blast occurred 25-km into the A-9 Road, from Omantai, a considerable distance.

If the LTTE’s accusation is correct, the organisation is in deep trouble, as its enemy has managed to penetrate a considerable distance on this highway, even as troops are inching forward in the jungle terrain.

****