Military Matters

Military ups the tempo

India pledges support, upsets the LTTE

The Indian authorities, who accorded a warm welcome to Sri Lanka’s Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, pledged support to eradicate terrorism raising a hue and cry from Tamil Nadu politicians and the LTTE, which issued a stern statement in response.
“The view expressed by the Indian military chiefs – ‘India wants to ensure that the Sri Lankan Army maintains its upper hand over the LTTE,’ just illustrates the efforts of the Indian state to prop up the Sinhala war machine,” the LTTE statement of March 10 reads.

The strongly-worded statement adds: “The LTTE wishes to point out to the Indian state that by this historic blunder it will continue to subject the Eelam Tamils to misery and put them in the dangerous situation of having to face ethnic genocide… The LTTE kindly requests the Tamils of Tamil Nadu to understand this anti-Tamil move of the Indian state and express their condemnation.”

LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, in his last Heroes’ Day speech also appealed to the 80 million Tamils living outside Sri Lanka to support the LTTE’s cause for a separate state.

In a joint statement issued on Thursday, following a three-hour consultation on the Sri Lankan issue at a hotel in Chennai, Paddali Makkal Kadchi (PMK, Toilers’ Party) Leader S. Ramadoss and Viduthalai Chiruththaikal Kadchi (VCK, Liberation Panthers’ Party) President Thol Thirumavalavan demanded, “an immediate halt to all Indian military aid to the Sinhalese chauvinist regime in Sri Lanka, which has directed its entire strength in a barbaric manner against the Tamil people.”

They accused the central government of sabotaging Tamil aspirations in the Sri Lankan issue by lending support to the Sri Lankan military.

Possibly buoyed by the tacit support of New Delhi – which always makes noises when the military made headway – the Army launched several operations in Mannar and Vavuniya on Sunday and continued them throughout the week.
The multi-pronged operations were conducted on several flanks spanning across Mannar east of the A 32 Thalladi-Pooneryn Road and Vavuniya west of the A9 Kandy-Jaffna Road.

Northwest of Giant’s Tank there was a forward thrust in Karampikkulam in Keerissuddan, Kathankulam and Periyankulam in the larger area of Parappakandal, while soldiers wrested control of areas surrounding the Sinnaodaippu sluice gates, which was originally captured a fortnight ago on February 28.

So, in effect north, west and northwest of the Giant’s Tank below the captured Adampan area, there was heavy fighting between the two sides with the LTTE offering stiff resistance giving rise to high casualty rates on both sides.

Buoyed also, by the Army’s deep penetration unit claymore mine killing of Jaffna District MP Srinivesan north of Puliyankulam last week, soldiers on Monday took on hordes of Tiger cadres in the Pulliyankulam area west of the A9 Road, killing dozens of them.

In between Pulliyankulam and Karampikkulam, almost in the centre at Vilatikulam, northeast of Maruthamadu, there were both direct and indirect fire attacks and counterattacks.

The casualty figures given of the opposing side is obviously exaggerated, while ones own casualty figures have been downplayed.
But, as both sides have admitted, fighting in these areas, the underlying message is government troops are on the offensive ahead of the Tiger defences and very much in LTTE territory.

While there is definite headway and penetration by the troops, how and when they would get a tactical advantage is left to be seen, as these small groups need to link up as a formidable force, lest they be gunned down by snipers, get booby trapped or become sitting ducks to Tiger artillery fire.

The LTTE’s Operations Command in Mannar on Wednesday announced that 35 soldiers were either wounded or killed in booby trap explosions in no-go zones between the LTTE and Sri Lanka Army Forward Defence Lines in Mannar from March 2 to March 10 in 35 separate incidents.

According to the LTTE breakdown, in Mullikulam 13, in Pandivirichchaan eight, in Koyilkulam nine and Valaiyankaddu five have either been killed or injured.

This may be an exaggeration to dissuade the Army and the deep penetrating units, which are making progress by penetrating so many areas simultaneously. However, it cannot be completely wished away as the Army admits its engineering units were being employed to remove mines. Engineer troops engaged in the removal of LTTE laid mines unearthed 53 anti-personnel mines from the general area of Kollomoddai on Tuesday.  

Three soldiers were wounded following an explosion of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in Karampaikkulam.
The LTTE is using booby traps and anti-personnel mines to obstruct the advancing forces. It is reported that the modus operandi is to use anti-personnel mines laced with cyanide.

A Captain of the Gemunu Regiment and a Captain of the Armed Corp, who trampled on anti-personnel mines during a search operation Maurukkan in South Mannar lost their feet. Captain Keith Ranawaka who was recovering died suddenly. It is suspected that the anti-personnel mine might have been laced with poison.

In Vilatikulam, the Army admits being hit by enemy mortar fire that goes to prove that the units have successfully penetrated this area ahead of the LTTE FDLs, despite previous attempts that had been thwarted.

The Gajaba Regiment captured another sluice gate of the Yodha Wewa and Mahalmotai area in the north of the reservoir. After capturing the Sinnadaipu sluice gates on February 28, this week it wrested control of the areas adjacent to it. While the military is inching forward and getting at strategic locations, it is also inviting mortar and artillery fire from LTTE positions as it defends these new areas under its control.

Government troops that earlier wrested control of the Adampan area in Mannar this week recovered seven 40mm grenade launcher bombs and a hand grenade during two separate searches conducted in the newly captured areas.

But, the LTTE had to face up to more surprises, having battled it out last week in the town area of Parappakandal, which was eventually gained by the forces. Having secured the town area, the troops pushed towards several pockets of the general area such as Periyakulam and Kattankulam, with minimum casualties.

There was heavy resistance from the Tiger cadres who were fighting tooth and nail to prevent the forces from making headway. There was fighting further north at Karaimpaikulam in the general area of Keerisudan and still further north in Palakkuli, just below the Adampan area. The LTTE claims that 22 soldiers were killed in Karaimpaikulam and another 20 in Palakkuli where alleged seized military possessions were displayed in the pro-Tiger Tamilnet website.

The Tigers claimed to have seized guns and ammunition in one of the heaviest confrontations at Palakkuli in Mannar on Monday. The LTTE claimed that 63 soldiers were wounded in the fighting that lasted from 4:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. and added that the Army withdrew, leaving behind their dead bodies in no-go zone and recovered them later at night. However, the LTTE which displayed seized items failed to show any dead bodies of soldiers.

The Army said six Tigers were killed in Karampaikulam where soldiers recovered two T-56 assault riffles and an I-com set.
The Army admits that two soldiers were injured in Vilatikulam while six Tigers were killed in the clashes.

In the clashes at Piliyankulam, the MCNS has reported 26 Tiger cadres killed as announced by the LTTE. The names of the 26 deceased LTTE cadres, as announced by LTTE transmissions, are as follows; (1) Neelamalar (2) Pawala Neela (3) Shamy (4) Kale Thamil (5) Suwampa (6) Venna Maran (7) Neela Mahal (8) Janaki (9) Komadhi (10) Jenni (11) Dharsnahi (12) Achini (13) Arnimalar (14) Ishara (15) Indiyawany (16) Purachchi Neela (17) Nivedani (18) Madhavi (19) Punidha (20) Ninilveli (21) Ithithavan (22) Ikanpaodi (23) Komahal (24) Veddhalavani (25) S. Janaki and (26) Pavandi.

While the two sides are fighting – the real war as well as a psy-ops war – it appears that as it stands, the Army together with the close air support, including the independent targeting of the Air Force, is ahead at this stage of the battles.


                    Military relations perk up in Asia                  

India finally emerges as true regional leader

Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka retuned to the island on Sunday after a successful high profile week-long tour of India, where he received the fullest support for the Sri Lanka Army’s anti-terrorist drive to flush out the Tigers in the current operations.

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

Several months back, after a meeting with Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Narayanan raised a hornet’s nest when he said India would not give Sri Lanka offensive weapons and she could not go to not-so-friendly countries (referring to China and Pakistan) for them either.

But this time around, after meeting Fonseka, Narayanan met Minister Douglas Devananda and has reportedly said: “India would play a major role in Sri Lanka’s efforts to solve the problems it is up against.” This is after Indian military chiefs expressed the view that New Delhi wanted the Sri Lanka Army to maintain the upper hand over the LTTE.

Note the shift in the Narayanan script
India appears to be taking its neighbours more seriously than before. A week before General Fonseka’s visit, India received the Bangladeshi Army Chief General Moeen U. Ahmed, who also was on a week-long visit to India to revive bilateral defence and political ties and boost security co-operation between the two countries.

“This will definitely enhance the relationship between the two offices in particular and in general, of course, the relationship between Bangladesh and India,” said General Ahmed after meeting his counterpart and receiving a guard of honour.

Consequent to the Pakistani elections and as a reply to the President’s address in the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India seeks to have good relations with Pakistan.

“I would like to assure the newly elected leadership in Pakistan that we seek good relations with Pakistan. India wants to live in peace with Pakistan as the destinies of the two nations are closely inter-linked.” He also stressed on the need to think of their collective destiny, security and prosperity.

During the landmark visit, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in four-and-a-half-years, India and China signed 11 documents covering five Memoranda of Understanding in wide ranging fields, including macro-economic management, railway, housing and urban poverty alleviation, land resource management, environmental changes and sustainable development of agriculture.

Singh, during the visit to China in January said, he felt that it is necessary for both India and China to consult each other more frequently on the issue of Pakistan and added that President Hu Jintao endorsed this view.

“A strong, stable and moderate Pakistan is in India’s interest and is in the interest of Asia,” said Singh.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, who assured Pakistan that Islamabad was still its strategic partner, said improved relations with New Delhi were the need of the hour.

“China and India are both big developing countries. To improve relations is in the interest of both countries, and in the interest of regional stability, prosperity and development,” Jiang has reportedly said.

India and China conducted joint military exercises in China last year and hope to repeat it in India this year.
India appears to be maturing and turning out to be a truly regional leader in South Asia and perhaps becoming prepared to take up a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, which it is justifiably seeking. It is also clamouring for far reaching changes in the United Nations.

India sought to mend fences with Russia too, after reports of a chill in bilateral relations, especially after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov failed to meet his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee during latter’s visit to Moscow late last year.

Subsequently, Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s visit to Russia patched up relations and Prime Minister Singh’s visit would further improve defence sector buyer-seller relations, and relations on the whole.

US Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates made his first official visit to India to further expand the best of military bilateral relations, and several joint exercises have already being held.

The defence trade relations between India and US are growing and so is it between India and Russia. India’s defence sector was allocated Rs. 1056 billion, a hike of 10% from last year’s allocation of Rs. 960 billion, to speed up the modernisation plans.


Govt. succeeds at Geneva: Goon squads betray administration

During the on going 7th Session of the Human Rights Council, the government delegation in Geneva has done a tremendous job in defending the country, and ensuring that at least 33 nations from several continents and groupings, would not vote against the island.

Of the 48 votes, the government is sure of those from Asian, African, Latin American, Islamic countries and other groupings, and not so sure of the votes from European and other western countries.

Sri Lanka never wanted to antagonise the European Block on account of the GSP Plus which would account for over 100,000 people in the garment industry who would have lost their jobs. Several lakhs of their dependants would have also suffered as a result. In the diplomatic meetings, Sri Lanka was told to get the Supreme Court’s opinion on whether the International Covenant of Political Rights was justifiable in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has sought the opinion of the Court in terms of Article 129, as to whether the legal regime in Sri Lanka sufficiently implements the provisions of the International Covenant of Political Rights. The matter will come up before the Supreme Court tomorrow.

Meanwhile, at the Geneva Human Rights Council sessions, representatives from Canada, U.K., Sweden and Netherlands have already strongly criticised the Sri Lankan Government’s human rights record. On the other hand, none of the countries from the favourable groups mentioned above, spoke against Sri Lanka.

While the western countries chose to maintain a stony silence when the resolution against Israel for its actions in Gaza came up, Canada, on the other hand, spoke against the resolution. Observers pointed out the double standards of the western countries.

The US, which is not a member of the Human Rights Council however, came out with a scathing attack on Sri Lanka’s human rights record in its 2007 State Department report. Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama, who summoned US Ambassador Robert O Blake over the alleged inaccuracies in the report, discussed the report in great detail. The US Envoy, however, stood by the report even though the government still maintained that it was exaggerated.

While the Human Rights Minister refuted a statement made by a British MP when the HR Council sessions opened in the first week of March, Deputy Solicitor General Shavindra Fernando this week denied the allegation that widespread torture is practiced in Sri Lanka. He refuted claims in a report by Alfred Nowak the Special Rapporteur on Torture. According to Fernando, torture was occasionally used by, “overzealous investigative personnel” in their pursuit of ascertaining the truth.

Sri Lankan Ambassador in Geneva, Dayan Jayathillake, too, contributed immensely towards elucidating the real situation in Sri Lanka vis-à-vis human rights, and the war against terror, as perpetrated by the LTTE.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted the successful efforts of the Sri Lankan delegation including that of the Ambassador, to be included in the minutes of the last Cabinet meeting.

While the delegation tackled the issue of human rights vis a vis the Sri Lankan Government well, several other incidents that followed marred the country’s image. These included: fresh attacks on Rupavahini staff members; the mob attack on the family members of Maubima journalist Parameshwari Munusami, who was taken in for questioning and released; the State Department report; the satellite evidence given to the Commission of Inquiry by the father of one of the five boys killed in Trincomalee, as well as the premature withdrawal of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP).

If the government is serious about protecting its human rights image, the least it should do is to rein in the goons even at this late hour, particularly when such HR sessions are being held.

The government has undoubtedly fought the war against terrorism well. Unfortunately, it has placed all its eggs in the war basket. The previous regime placed all its eggs in the peace basket; and when that fell apart, the government came down crashing.
Commenting on the fact that the civil war in Sri Lanka was approaching its 25th year, the influential Asian Wall Street Journal, read by political leaders, politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats and civil servants from all countries, has an interesting editorial. It refers to the need for pursuing a draft political solution.

The Wall Street Journal editorial has said: “Part of the problem is that Mr. Rajapaksa isn’t necessarily willing to address the legitimate grievances of Tamils. His coalition rode to office in 2005, on a wave of Sinhalese nationalism, and has since, done little to reach across the aisle to moderate Tamil parties.”

“If the government really wanted to show its commitment to resolving the conflict, it could allow the All-Party Representative Committee, a multi-party negotiation forum, to finalise its work on a devolution plan, for newly democratic Tamil areas, that would transfer more power from Colombo to local control.”

However, the editorial also had some praise for the Rajapaksa administration when it stated: “The government is trying to move its military offensive into a new phase: elections. Municipal polls in the majority-Tamil Eastern Province Monday, were far from perfect, but symbolically, they represented a big step forward. The question now is whether the government can keep the momentum going, and hold freer and fairer provincial elections...”

“Whatever the virtues of his military offensive, it will work only if he can offer a political solution to the legitimate grievances of the Tamil civilians left in the terrorists’ wake. Batticaloa is just the beginning of that long process,” the editorial added.
It further stated that, “Events over the next few weeks will show how serious Mr. Rajapaksa really is about bringing democracy to Tamil areas.”

President Rajapaksa himself has pledged to extend democracy, now enjoyed by the Eastern Province, to Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu.
What is implied in this statement is that the military will not stop its offensives until it clears these two districts, and allow the people there to taste democracy.

In fact, President Rajapaksa was able to come to power thanks to the despotic LTTE Leader Prabhakaran, who ordered the people to boycott the 2005 Presidential election poll.

Ranil Wickremesinghe lost this election because he failed to secure the Tamil votes from the uncleared northern areas. But, defying the LTTE boycott, the people of Batticaloa voted for Wickremesinghe. As this column stated last week, it was a miscalculation on the part of the UNP to have boycotted the March 10 Local Government polls. The least one could expect of the Grand Old Party, is that it would contest the May 10 Provincial Council elections.

The pro-Indian Tamil parties would contest the polls. Hence if the constituent parties of the Tamil National Alliance fail to contest this election, they are likely to die a natural death.

The victorious Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP), or Tamil People’s Liberation Party, is one of the few Tamil parties to drop the Eelam word. The whole world will be watching the TMVP as well as the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), with which a broader alliance is being contemplated at the forthcoming Provincial Council polls. While the local government councils deal with utilities and other local issues, what will be expected of the newly elected Provincial Councils, is the passing of salutary statutes in a multi-ethnic, multi religious region like Trincomalee, Baticaloa and Amparai.

The Eastern Provincial Council election has more significance than even the Parliamentary elections in the East, as those elected would have a direct say in influencing statutes and action in the East.

Indian National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan has reportedly said he expected devolution of power to the people of the North and the East would materialize very soon. Thereafter India would play a major role in Sri Lanka’s efforts to solve the problems it is up against. So states a press release by Social Development Minister Douglas Devananda who met Narayanan.

India feels the LTTE was given a chance to talk peace seriously with the United National Front government of Ranil Wickremesinghe, but squandered it by asking for the Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) that went beyond even a federal set up, it agreed to, as a final solution. Prior to this, the LTTE also baulked on the Indo Lanka Peace Agreement and did not contest the North East Provincial Council elections in 1988. Instead it gunned for the elected representatives and members of the Tamil National Army that was set up before the Indians left.

The way forward, it seems, is to support those Tamil parties who are willing to face elections and agree to a political solution within a united Sri Lanka.