Friday (April 25) would mark the second anniversary of the assassination
attempt on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. In an ironic twist,
two years after LTTE’s assassination attempt on the army chief, the
Norwegian facilitators, breaking their long silence after the government
threw over-board Oslo’s baby - the ceasefire agreement- in January, are
now appealing to India to mediate between the two parties
Sinhala and Hindu New Year passed off relatively peacefully
amidst heightened security throughout the country. Not only did the guns
go silent, the sound of fire crackers was considerably less, restricting
the number of injuries to a couple this year.
Most Tamils and Sinhalese were in no mood to celebrate the New Year as
the war intensified and victims on both sides multiplied, even as the
cost of living soared and sapped the communities beyond existence.
Those who escaped the war, were consumed by the kitchen war, and for
some, it was war on both fronts.
The military, which has been on a prolonged offensive, shifted gear, got
into a defensive mode. During previous phases of Eelam War and to herald
a new one, the LTTE would execute a major strike during the month of
Next Friday (April 25) would mark the second anniversary of the
assassination attempt on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. If not
a declaration of war, this single act was a clear indication of the
LTTE’s intentions, that it was abandoning the peace process and keen to
Not willing to take this crass act of terrorism lying low, the
government conducted several sorties over pre-identified LTTE targets in
Tiger-controlled areas, signalling it was ready for war.
This virtual declaration of war was just two months after the first
round of Geneva Talks, with the new dispensation having failed to bear
fruit, and with each side blaming the other.
In an ironic twist, two years after LTTE’s assassination attempt on the
Army Chief, the Norwegian facilitators, breaking their long silence
after the government threw over-board Oslo’s baby- the ceasefire
agreement- in January, are now appealing to India to mediate between the
two parties, to have them return to the peace table.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi has reportedly appealed to the
Union Government to push for negotiations between the Sri Lankan
Government and the LTTE.
Tomorrow marks the second anniversary since the LTTE withdrew from the
peace table on April 21, 2003 during the previous UNF regime. Will it
come back to the table of the UPFA regime after two years of brutal war?
If it does, the LTTE would have learnt the bitter lesson that it cannot
defeat the Sri Lankan military. In fact, the LTTE began negotiations
with the UNF government in a big way, after a series of victories over
the military culminating in the daring attack on the Katunayake
International Airport and the adjacent Sri Lanka Air Force Base on July
The international war on terror after the September 11, 2001 Twin Tower
attack may have been another reason for the LTTE to enter into
negotiations. Throughout the talks, the LTTE was biding time, waiting to
slip out, but the international community almost forcibly upheld the
peace process, even after the LTTE withdrew from talks temporarily.
The LTTE, which unofficially declared war against the new hawkish
government, got the works and fireworks in ample measure.
At last, it is hoped the realisation has dawned on the LTTE that it
cannot defeat the military.
Or is it that the LTTE, which is fighting with its back to the wall, is
keen on a respite to re-group and re-arm? The previous UNP-led
government came to the realisation that it cannot defeat the LTTE, and
therefore settled for talks. Thinking that it could defeat the LTTE
easily, the SLFP-led government undertook the war, but will soon learn
the bitter lesson that the war cannot be won, and the fall out of the
prolonged war could defeat the administration.
It was Norwegian’s Special Envoy to Sri Lanka, Hanssen Bauer, who made
an appeal for Indian mediation after participating at a two-day
conference in Oslo organised by the Art of Living Foundation attended by
Indian spiritual guru Sri Ravi Shankar, and influential individuals from
Sri Lanka, India, Europe and Switzerland.
Attending the conference were members of the European Parliament Erikka
Mann and Nirajan Devadittiya, who have close links with the current
Lankan Administration and Sri Lanka’s Peace Secretariat Chief Dr. Rajiva
Wjesinghe, UNP MP Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, Ven. Madhuluvave Sobitha
Nayaka Thera, India’s MDMK chief Vaiko who has contacts with the LTTE
and Colin Archer of the International Peace Bureau (Switzerland).
It was in Geneva, Switzerland that the second round of peace talks did
not get off the ground on October 28, despite LTTE attending. This was
because its chief negotiator S.P.Thamilselvan, demanded the opening the
A9 Road, the highway of death, before the talks commenced.
As it stands, Thamilselvan was killed by a SLAF air-raid on November 2,
2007 and Anton Balasingham the LTTE chief negotiator, during the UNF
talks died earlier that year.
Since the UPFA came to office in April 2004, this Administration has
lost three prominent Tamils - former Foreign Minister Lakshman
Kadirgamar in 2005, Deputy Peace Secretariat Chief Kethesh Loganathan in
2006 and more recently, the Chief Government Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.
Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa narrowly escaped assassination on
December 1, 2006.
The UNP has lost the cream of its leadership including President
Ranasinghe Premadasa, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake.
India lost a former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose daughter,
Priyanka Vadra, created a flutter when she visited in a Vellore jail
LTTE operative Nalini Sriharan, one of the conspirators in her father’s
The move has sent shockwaves in Sri Lanka that the Chairperson of
India’s ruling alliance, Sonia Gandhi’s daughter was willing to bury the
hatchet, despite successive Indian Governments refusing to absolve the
LTTE of its crime. She, however, insisted that it was a private visit on
her own initiative.
With the Indian elections not far off, the Congress led by Sonia Gandhi
would not want to alienate Tamil voters sympathetic towards fellow
Tamils across the Palk Strait. It is likely that as a clear majority by
any single party is being ruled out, the Congress party would like to
keep its constituent parties on board, perhaps to contest as a group, or
form the coalition after the elections.
So far, the Congress party has not responded to the Nationalist Congress
Party President Sharad Pawar’s proposal for the ruling United
Progressive Alliance to contest as a group.
Sri Lanka has been alienating itself from the western world as it banked
on support from the Asian region. It would not be in Sri Lanka’s
interest to see India tilt itself towards the LTTE even as the
organisation is gradually gaining a toe hold in Tamil Nadu, as evident
from the arrests made recently.
It is suspected that the LTTE unloaded a shipment of arms and ammunition
coming across the Indian Ocean recently.
It must be remembered that had the ten ships carrying arms and
ammunition not been destroyed over the past five years, the LTTE would
have been placed in a stronger military position. While the Navy did a
good job destroying the ships, the intelligence provided mainly by
India, was also vital.
Monitoring the large porous southern Indian border is no easy task, and
if the Indian authorities turn a blind eye, the Tigers would stand to
gain. If the LTTE is able to regain the sympathy of the multi-million
Tamil population in Tamil Nadu, this would be a huge advantage to the
organisation. This would offset whatever military support the country
receives, in terms of arms and ammunition, from Pakistan and China.
On the battlefront, the realisation is soon dawning on the powers that
be, that a military solution was not as imminent as envisaged. Also, the
international community, including India, has warned that a military
solution is not the answer to a political problem. Weakening the LTTE to
bring it to the negotiating table is however tacitly approved by the
international community, including India.
Judging by the time taken to almost wrest control of Madhu, given the
stiff resistance by the Tigers, the goal of the military to reach
Vidatilativu would take another three months or so. Securing
Vidatilativu alone may not be sufficient, and the military would have to
go the whole hog right up to Pooneryn. To secure the entire western
coast right up to Pooneryn which is a good 50 km, it would take an
additional nine months to an year.
Meanwhile, four generals are due to retire in the next nine months,
starting from Major General Upali Edirisinghe who turns 55 in August
this year, two years since the commencement of Eelam War IV. The Army’s
No. 2, Commandant of the Volunteer Force, Major General Lawrence
Fernando and Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Major General G.A.
Chandrasiri will turn 55 in January, 2009, while the No. 3 Chief of
Staff, Major General Nissanka Wijesinghe retires in February, next year.
The current operation to secure the western coast must be viewed from
the standpoint of “Operation Jaya Sikuru” or ‘Victory Assured’. Though
the longest single military operation, that was the most costly in terms
of men and material, it had to be abandoned.
At the time when the Jaya Sikuru operation to wrest control of the A 9
Road was on, the LTTE offered little resistance in Mannar, as the Tigers
knew the exact goal of the military: to open an alternative route to
Jaffna. The security forces easily wrested control over the Wanni
region. But this time, the Tigers are digging in the Wanni, as they know
the goal of the military: to wrest control of the western coast to cut
off supplies to the Tigers from that side of the Indian Ocean. The other
motive is to destroy LTTE artillery gun positions at the tip of Pooneryn
that has a range up to Palaly. There is also the politico-military goal
of resuming the boat service from Sangupiddy to the Jaffna peninsula.
Merely securing the coast is not enough; a good two divisions would be
required to defend the entire coast line from the landmass if the Tigers
withdraw interior and begin to attack.
Can the military afford that commitment? There is also the Weli Oya
front that has been opened possibly to divide the LTTE’s attention.
Unlike during Jaya Sikuru , where the LTTE did not resist army
advancement west of Vavuniya and Mannar, the Tigers cannot afford to
ignore the army’s advance in Weli Oya, as the Tiger heartland Mullaitivu
would be exposed. Also, it could be possible that the military is
undertaking an ambitious campaign to seal off both coasts
It could possibly be a strategy to split the Tigers who are already
over-stretched and having severe manpower problems. As we said last
week, the Tigers are involved in forcible conscription, much to the
chagrin of the civilians, who are gradually slipping out of uncleared
Meanwhile, the defence Ministry revealed yesterday that three Tiger
‘policemen’ who deserted the organization confessed to troops that they
had shunned LTTE ‘police duties’ on several occasions, but the LTTE had
repeatedly arrested them and confined them to the Kanagapura prison in
Kilinochchi where they had befriended one another.
The three LTTE deserters named are Amala Sumanyan, 26, Rathnakumar
Sadeesh, 23 and Sebastian Pillai Arulraj,26. Tiger leaders unlocked them
from prison on March 31 and they made their way to the north of Mannar
across dense jungles with more 34 “LTTE policemen,” including three for
deployment for LTTE duties, the media centre for national security
The attrition war resumed after a brief respite but in terms of area
secured, it is minimal.
Fresh fighting in the north, Wanni and Weli Oya on Friday resulted in 21
Tigers killed. In Jaffna, army infantrymen along with their specialised
mechanised infantry men, embarked on series of attacks on LTTE defences
in the Muhamalai and Eluthumaduwal, the defence ministry reported.
In the Wanni theatre, troops marching ahead had several clashes with
Tiger cadres in the Thachchanamaruthamadu, and Chinnavalayankaddu areas
killing 11. In Mannar, troops attacked Tiger bunkers in the
Manipuilukulam, and Minukkad areas killing six Tigers and destroying 5
LTTE bunkers. In Alankulama troops killed three Tigers while snipers
deployed in the Malikaittidal and Minnukkad area reported shooting down
three more LTTE cadres.
On the Welioya front, troops had several confrontations in the
Kokkutuduval, Janakapura North and Kriibbanwava North areas on Friday
killing one LTTE cadre and injuring three more. The military admitted
three deaths in these operations where there was no independent
verification of the casualty figures.
The military cannot attribute the slow progress due to indirect fire,
booby traps and IEDs. In any conventional war, one has to expect a
minefield, and the military would have to assault across the minefield
allowing a few percentage points of casualties.
The Navy and the Air Force have done well to cripple the Tigers
destroying their assets in sea and land.
For instance yesterday, based on a tip off from a naval patrol, the Air
Force had a reconnaissance aircraft airborne over the south of the
Mullaitivu lagoon. After the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) confirmed
that there were three fast Tiger craft fitted with guns on the shore,
fighter jets were used to destroy the boats last evening. while the Army
has made headway and needs to carry its operations to a logical
conclusion, even if it means losing more casualties. But, could the LTTE,
which is a terrorist and guerilla outfit with conventional capabilities
be fully defeated? There seems to be a trend of higher casualties
suffered by the troops until and even after the weather gods played
havoc. Will the military continue its thrust or play safe as one
miscalculation could undermine its achievements? Or will the government
decide that its success should now be carried forward to the negotiating
table with greater bargaining power than in 2002, after a series of
Catholic Bishop’s Conference clarifies Madhu statue
revered Madhu statue continued to be the centre of focus for successive
weeks, with this week being no exception.
The latest developments suggest that the Administrator of the Madhu
Shrine Fr. Emilianus Pillai is keen to bring back the statue to its
He has appealed to both parties for a written guarantee to enable him to
bring back the statue to Madhu. So effectively, the LTTE would have to
vacate the church premises and compound, while the military has to
refrain from attacks in an around the church.
Catholic priests from the Mannar diocese met the LTTE to seek this
guarantee, and church authorities were scheduled to meet the military
for the same purpose, even though the government has been sounded off.
Meanwhile, efforts by the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Italy Hemantha
Warnakulasuriya to make representations to the Vatican, to influence the
Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, proved futile. The veteran lawyer and
former President BASL was politely told that it was a matter for the
local church to decide.
The Bishop’s Conference of Sri Lanka convened an emergency meeting in
Kandy and issued the following statement:
“The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Sri Lanka is deeply concerned about
the misinterpretations and unfounded speculations that appeared in some
media, regarding the removal of the venerated statue of Our Lady of
Madhu to the church in Thevanpiddy.
Therefore we feel it our duty to clarify matters as follows:
1. Madhu is a shrine so declared according to the Pilgrimages
Ordinance as published in the Government Gazette notification No. 185 of
1982.03.19. Therefore the Madhu Shrine and the camp area fall under the
2. As the shrine and the area around it are within the so-called
“Uncleared Area” the statue of Our Lady of Madhu was already there, in
the LTTE controlled area.
3. As it is well known the sacred area of the Madhu camp has
presently become a battlefield between the government Forces and the
4. With the escalation of war in the area, shells began to fall
not only on the camp area but also in the premises of the Shrine and the
residence of the priests.
5. The situation has worsened in the recent past and all the
remaining lay workers, religious sisters and priests were forced to seek
shelter in bunkers and finally flee to save their lives.
6. Before doing so they decided, with the approval of the Bishop
of Mannar, to take the statue along with them to the closest
functionally available church which is Thevanpiddy. As a last resort,
they had taken this decision of their own free will, and not under
compulsion, or at the request of the LTTE or any other as viciously
reported in some media.
7. The statue has been moved out temporarily to the church in
Thevanpiddy which alone has a Catholic community around it. All other
parishes in the uncleared area of the district of Mannar are presently
deserted by the people due to security reasons. It is to be noted that
the displaced people of these deserted parishes numbering over 24,000
live in this area. The statue is, therefore, enshrined temporarily in
the said church and will be brought back to the hallowed Madhu Shrine at
the first opportunity of safety.
8. We deplore the malicious attribution of motives and the unwarranted
interpretations given to this simple and inevitable course of action,
which was due solely to the exigencies of the given situation. We hope
that the above facts will clear the unfounded allegations and