Military Matters

            Govt., LTTE strategise anew         

Operation Liberation Wanni is gradually beginning to bear fruit for the military. Civilians from uncleared areas are seeking freedom in the cleared areas in the Mannar District

After the miraculous statue of Madhu Matha was removed last week, in the face of an impending military showdown, the incessant torrential rains that lashed the region for weeks, ceased!
The weather cleared up completely and so did the rain of artillery and mortar shells. For two whole days, the big guns went silent this week. There was the occasional shell fired from the cleared to the uncleared area and that was it.

The rains, of course, have resulted in boggy conditions, making ground operations difficult and the use of armour, impossible. The rains also caused mosquito-bred diseases to spread, hampering manpower on both sides.
The LTTE took possession of the Madhu Shrine area after the miraculous statue was removed to St. Xavier’s Church Thevenpiddy, close to Vellankulam in the Mannar District.

Catholic devotees in Mannar commenced a signature campaign to pressure the LTTE, as well as the government, to allow the safe return of the Madhu Matha statue. The petition was handed over to the Government Agent Mannar, A. Nicholaspillai, to be passed down to Colombo.

Church authorities blowing hot
Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph joined his fellow bishops at the Catholic Bishops Conference held in Kandy this week. The Bishops Conference last week, in a press release, appealed to the government and the LTTE to keep Madhu, a place of worship, out of the combat.

The conference this week met in Kandy and discussed the serious issues at stake, including the safety of the Madhu Matha statue, as well as the speedy return of the statue to its sylvan shrine, the occupation of the sacred area by the LTTE and the fact that troops were poised to secure it. The current Bishops’ Conference is a sequel to representations made by Mannar Bishop Joseph as well as Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Bhaila to Apostolic Pro Nuncio Archbishop Mario Zenari last week.

Judging by the restraint on the part of the two warring parties, they seem to have taken the appeal by the Bishops’ Conference seriously.

In Weli Oya, notwithstanding the conditions and diseases and Tiger resistance, including minefields and booby traps, troops made progress of sorts, advancing nearly 5 kms into Tiger-controlled territory, Janakapura north.

Fleeing Tiger conscription

Barring the Sunday (6) attack north of Madhu, where there were casualties on both sides, operations in Mannar and Vavuniya were greatly limited this week, owing to boggy conditions.

But, in the overall account, Operation Liberation Wanni is gradually beginning to bear fruit for the military. Civilians from uncleared areas are seeking freedom in the cleared areas in the Mannar District, just as they did in Vakarai and during other operations in the East.

Just like Vakarai, the LTTE is trying hard to hold back civilians but, as the area is vast, and Tiger cadres thinly spread, it is an unenviable task.

The two routes taken are via sea by boats and through the paddy fields. The safe passage by boat costs around Rs 1 lakh per person. By end March, there were just eight families accounting for 32 individuals, who arrived at the new Kalimoddai internally displaced persons (IDP) site in the Nanattan DS division, headed by Thirugnanasambanthar.

To date, some 140 families, accounting for over 500 civilians, mainly children and adults, have been registered by the District Secretariat Office.
In the Mantai West DS Division, Sudharan, who shuttles from Batticaloa, is the Divisional Secretary. Operations in this division are still progressing, even though there has been a lull in the past week or so.

Those returning from the uncleared areas are being screened by the Navy and Military Police before they are sent to the Kalimoddai Welfare Centre, a special camp run by the military. Civilians from the cleared areas are barred from visiting this camp as of now.

In the entire Mannar district, by end March, there were 6,240 internally displaced families, accounting for 23,445 IDPs, on account of military operations during the past nine months to a year.

Fishing prohibitive

On the one hand, the torrential rains destroyed much of the paddy in the Mannar rice bowl, while fishing was made difficult due to this unusual weather. This is on top of restrictions placed by the Navy for security reasons.
In recent times, fishing in the Vidattalativu area has virtually come to a standstill.

This time, it is not because of any new measures by the Navy, but because the LTTE is abducting young fishermen and conscripting them, due to severe manpower problems, as the military continues its war of attrition.
Last month, Sandiyago (28), Xavier (26) and Leonard (19), three brothers from the Pigardo family, along with Akilan Perera (21), were whisked away from a group of five Tamil fishermen off Vidatalativu.

Troops are poised to reach Vidatalativu, the last key LTTE arms supplies point. Part of the Madhu operation, as well as the operations north of Madhu was to secure the western coast to cut off supplies from South India.
Last year, troops cleared the Silawaturai area to prevent smuggling of arms and ammunition from that area.

This new wave of Tiger conscription has resulted in more civilians crossing over to cleared areas. For several months, civilians have braved military operations and remained in uncleared areas. But, they are not ready to stand conscription, particularly, at a time when the LTTE is at the receiving end, unable to stage a single major operation, as the oganisation is fighting, essentially, a defensive war.

Tigers still resilient

If this trend continues, the LTTE would find it difficult to continue its war effort. But, the Tigers have done considerably well in the face of an unprecedented military onslaught on several fronts in Mannar, Vavuniya, Weli Oya and across the Kilali-Muhamalai-Nagarkovil axis in Jaffna.

This columnist predicted long before the operations in the Wanni commenced, that it would not be a cakewalk for the security forces, as it was in the East. This is because of the LTTE’s conventional war capabilities. The LTTE, as predicted, put its artillery and mortar guns to good use, as well as used mines and booby traps to stall or delay advancing troops.

Notwithstanding all these, the troops made headway in its war of attrition and managed to take control of a few key points west of the Giant’s Tank around Parapankandal and north of it around Adampan in the Mannar area. Troops have also successfully advanced some 10 km north of Madhu, close to Pallampiddi. In the Vavuniya area too, by continuous penetration, it managed to secure a few key places.

Feeling the pressure, the LTTE is desperate to divert the attention of the troops. Hence, the various attacks in the border villages, as well as in the Anuradhapura, Moneragala and Hambantota districts.

The terrorist attacks in Colombo and the suburbs have also put the forces under heightened alert. This administration has fought the war on several fronts, not just in the northeast theatre of war, but also in Colombo. Tamil civilians face numerous difficulties and hardships, as the military is bent on ensuring the security of the Capital.

Human rights (HR) excesses have also resulted in the process and this administration, despite all the bashings internationally, has managed to fight back and even contest powerful governments and international organisations, including the world body.
The LTTE hoped that international pressure could be brought to bear on this administration, to halt the military offensives, but that has not worked.

When blocked by one quarter, the government would go to another, and return to the original quarter, when things have subsided in the first quarter.

The administration used the good offices of the United States to get the European Union (EU) to ban the LTTE. The dangers of international terrorism were played up to get foreign countries to do all in their control to expose Tiger activities and to get at the bottom of the LTTE’s international arms smuggling network.

But, since the high profile visits to Iran were made, Sri Lanka began to lose America’s support for the war on terrorism and in fact, was at the receiving end in terms of HR abuses.

Since December 26, 2007, the US diplomatic service announced a “policy of rejection of applications for licences for the export of defence articles and services to Sri Lanka.” Last month, the US State Department, in its annual report, made a scathing attack on the current administration in Sri Lanka vis-à-vis its HR record.
Sri Lanka has been facing hard times in Geneva at successive UNHRC sessions and managed to prevent a resolution.

EU’s ‘rendition’ of HR abuse

The EU is also not very pleased with the country’s HR record, and was set to end all benefits Sri Lanka would otherwise have obtained via GSP + facility it enjoyed for several years.

The EU has its own Code of Conduct on arms exports. The Code asks countries to reject licences for the export of weapons to countries that violate the observance of HR or where they could provoke [or aggravate] existing conflicts.
But, beating all these restrictions, the administration in February secured a shipment of 10,000 GRAD missiles from Slovak that has led to a major controversy that was highlighted by the BBC.

Despite the Sri Lankan Government (SLG) unilaterally abrogating the cease-fire agreement with the LTTE in January, this shipment was approved the following month.
The Economy Ministry granted a licence for the export of 10,000 missiles to the company Way Industry from Krupina.
Deputies of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia [HZDS] have expressed concern over the export of missiles to Sri Lanka, as it was contrary to the EU Code of Conduct on arms exports.

The Slovak Foreign Ministry defended its position, saying that the SLG was strengthening the country’s defence capability and what they have done was only to permit a transaction involving ammunition and not permit the use of this ammunition.
Way Industry Director Julius Mokos denied that the deal violated any laws, and said that the SLG had a right to defend itself against the Tamil Tigers. “They are the worst terrorists in the world. We should be asking where the terrorists are getting their weapons, not where the government is getting them,” the report said.

China, Pakistan friends in deed

Sri Lanka has been successfully obtaining assistance from a range of foreign governments for its military efforts. The support it has received from Pakistan and China has been immense.
Currently, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is visiting China, the second visit in 14 months.
Immediately after the last visit, US Ambassador Robert O. Blake, together with the Defence Secretary, signed the Acquisition for Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) for greater military cooperation. China has managed to dislodge Japan as the largest aid donor to Sri Lanka. President Hu Jintao assured President Rajapaksa on his current visit that China will stand by Sri Lanka in its efforts to counter terrorism.

It was only last month that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Army Chief Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka made a successful official visit to India, securing the support of the military top brass in New Delhi to maintain the upper hand in the war on the LTTE to defeat terrorism.

The Government’s resolve to end terrorism would not weaken by Sunday’s silencing of Chief Government Whip Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, was the stern warning by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka, who vowed that operations would continue to completely eradicate LTTE terrorism.

Having exhausted all channels to get the military to stall its offensives, what the LTTE would probably want is a repeat of a southern subversion like in 1988/89 so that the forces would be divided between the north and South.
But, the ultimate goal of the LTTE is Eelam and for that it would want a UN intervention of sorts. The Government may have done a number internationally, to get the support of different groups, but has it done enough to stall a UN intervention like East Timor.