Military Matters

Seven days of Artillery rain

                                              Major pitched battles ahead in the Weli Oya front                               

An eerie silence from the Muhamalai front indicates the extent of damage wrought on both sides, by a single day of fighting last week, after the security forces took the initiative, claiming it was a pre-emptive strike.

The Mannar operation has taken a back seat, after the security forces last week wrested control of the Madhu shrine area, with the Tigers tactically withdrawing their cadres to fight another day in another place. The two sides must be commended for respecting the sanctity of the holy precincts and the sensibilities of the minority Catholic population comprising both Sinhalese and Tamils, and of course, prudently considering the international dimension.

Beyond Madhu, there has been a slight forward thrust towards Palampiddi, as the aim in that direction is to reach Vidatilativu and secure the western coast, or so its seems.

Just a fortnight ago, Senpathi warned that the Tigers cannot afford to ignore the Army’s advance in Weli Oya, as the Tiger heartland, Mullaitivu, would be exposed.

This week, the flashpoint was Weli Oya, and the Tigers have seized the initiative by launching a series of artillery attacks again, as pre-emptive measures to prevent the security forces from entering the Mullaitivu jungles.

From Saturday (April 26) the Tigers fired shells for one long week towards Kambiliwewa, Galkumala, Sri Tissapura, Singhapura and Ranabhapura areas. If this was not an indication that the Tigers fear a major forward thrust from Weli Oya, there was another cue. Two light aircraft dropped three to four bombs on Weli Oya, that however did not cause much damage.

The Tigers probably consider Palampiddi a feigned thrust, and as it did during Operation Jayasikurui, where they allowed troops to move into Mannar and Madhu with ease, they would continue to do so now, while concentrating their cadres in Weli Oya, as they did to beat back the advancing troops on the A9 Road during Jayasikurui.

Swarnam who led the LTTE in Sampur and eventually conceded the east, was giving leadership in the Weli Oya theatre of war. He is assisted by Balraj, Baskaran, and Gopal Master and the carders that withdrew from the east are concentrating in this sensitive region to repulse the troops, even if it means unceasing waves.

The 59 Division was created last year and Major General Nandana Udawatta was appointed its General Officer Commanding (GOC). Troops are poised to strike at the heart by entering the Mullaitivu jungles. There could also be a thrust along the eastern coast. Security forces have not only neutralised Tiger artillery fire, but have been firing multi-barrel rocket launchers, even as troops, citing intercepted messages, cla imed that they killed hundreds of cadres including dozens of Tiger ‘officers’ during the confrontations in the last four months, when they advanced into Tiger-controlled area.

The military claims that Tiger bodies were seen strewn in the jungles. The war is certainly hotting up and the casualties on both sides are mounting. Very recently more than two dozens soldiers, requiring amputation after they lost their legs having stepped on anti-personnel mines, were being transported in the floorboard of CTB buses on a foam mattress, underneath the seats, to avoid detection. Losing their limbs is one thing, and such is expected is fierce battles, but the authorities, at all levels, must make sure that the dignity of these wounded soldiers is kept in tact.

The security forces are advancing in terrain that has been booby trapped and teeming with anti-personnel mines.
Troops on mine clearing operations unearthed 185 anti-personnel mines from north of Janakapura and Kokkuthuduvai areas, while a further, 113 anti-personnel mines and 16 Improvised Explosive Devices were unearthed from the general area Vedukkanry, the military reported.

In the Welioya front, troops attacked a group of Tigers in the Kokkuthuduvai area on Friday morning and evening killing/ injuring half a dozen Tigers, troops claimed. In a separate confrontation north of Kiriibbanwewa, two soldiers suffered injuries. It will be recalled that last year, too, there were several artillery attacks by the LTTE in this area, where the troops are now meeting the Tigers face to face.

A civil security person and a STF officer were reportedly injured when their motor bike was caught in a by-road claymore mine blast yesterday at Pulliyankulama in Kebithigollewa on the Vavuniya- Kebithigollewa Road. The injured were immediately rushed to the general hospital at Kebithigollewa.

Another LTTE claymore mine was triggered near the 2nd mile post at Bogasdeniya junction, along the Pulmoddai Road at Padaviya last morning, damaging a high power tension line. On Friday, too, a claymore mine was exploded killing a soldier and injuring another while they were traveling in an armoured personnel carrier on Friday (2) Halembewewa, Welioya along the Halembewewa - Nelumwewa Road.

Tiger military leaders have been ordered by the leadership to obstruct the military operation in Weli Oya. The real battles are waiting to erupt here and already, Sinhala villagers in the Omantha 56 Brigade area have left for safer locations, after Tigers fired shells in the early hours of Wednesday. Residents of Kebithigollewa area have complained that they are not satisfied with the security provided to them. The STF in Padaviya-Dutuwewa area also came under attack by the LTTE. Unlike in the east and in the Mannar region, where most of the internally displaced were Tamils, in the Weli Oya region, it would be predominantly Sinhalese who would get displaced, as the battle heats up here. This would have a political fallout in Colombo, which the authorities would try to prevent.

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.


Gajanayake Chronology

The Government has sent the right signals to the world at large and to those violating human rights that, it is not going to tolerate impunity any longer. The Attorney General (AG) indicted a former Air Force Commissioned Officer Sqd. Ld. Nishantha Gajanayake and three others in the Colombo High Court last week, for abduction and aiding and abetting abduction, among other charges. After Gajanayake’s arrest mid last year, a sergeant attached to the Air Force Military Police, a PC of the President’s Security Division, an SI of the Prime Minister’s Security Division and two officers of the Police Special Task Force (STF) Intelligence Unit were arrested and grilled.

June 12, 2006

Sqd. Ld. Nishantha Gajanayake becomes Aide de Camp (ADC) to Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Marshal Donald Perera. Prior to that, Gajanayake was ADC to Perera, up to the time he retired as Air Force Chief.

August 2006

Gajanayake leaves the Air Force after 20-years service, but before he exhausted the maximum number of years in the rank as Sqd. Ld. With this decision, he also left his influential position as ADC to CDC, possibly to embark on another “deadly” project that would increase his wealth.

He operated from Holiday Inn Room No. 706. His hotel bills were paid for by another occupant at the hotel, Nalaka Gajadheera, brother of Chandrasiri Gajadeera. Abductions and extortion in Colombo rises.
Gajanayake’s name first surfaced when sleuths were probing an abduction-for-ransom case in Kotahena, allegedly involving some of Karuna’s men. Gajanayake had close contacts with Karuna’s group.

June 1, 2007

Two Red Cross workers from Batticaloa, Sinnarajah Shanmuganathan (38), and Karthigesu Chandramohan (28), in Colombo for a programme and putting up at the Holiday Inn, were abducted. Their bodies were found in Ratnapura.

June 6, 2007

UNP Parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne announced in Parliament that Sqd. Ld. Nishantha Gajanayake was responsible for the current wave of killings, abductions and disappearances of persons.

June 8, 2007

Sri Lanka Defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella informs the press that the CID had obtained a statement from him on the allegation that members of his security detail extorted ransom from a top Muslim businessman in Colombo

June 9, 2007

The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) took two eyewitnesses to the Fort Railway Station (from where the two Red Cross workers had been abducted) and also questioned some railway employees. The CID grilled Sqd. Ld. Gajanayake in his hotel room No. 706. Police took in Gajanayake and Gajadeera for questioning, but released them on bail. Gajanayake’s brother-in-law, Lt. Col. Manjula Manatunga, stood bail for him in his personal capacity.

June 11, 2007

P.N. Bhagavati, on behalf of the International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), observed a “renewed systematic practice of enforced disappearance and killings,” and urged that, “the Commission and IIGEP not be portrayed as a substitute for robust, effective measures, including national and international human rights monitoring.”

June 21, 2007

Gajanayake was arrested by the CID. His arrest led to the arrests of a sergeant of the Air Force Military Police, a PC of the President’s Security Division, an SI of the Prime Minister’s Security Division and two officers of the STF Intelligence Unit.

February 2008

Gajanayake released due to lack of material evidence to indict him, according to the AG.

March 11, 2008

US State Department, in its annual report, has highlighted Gajanayake’s alleged involvement in abductions. It said “Gajanayake’s arrest led to the arrests of several others, including four police officers and two military officers. The government charged Gajanayake and the others with conducting political abduction, kidnapping for ransom, and murder…. At year’s end, there was no progress towards a trial. On December 14, unidentified gunmen abducted and killed a 43-year old Sri Lanka Red Cross member, Sooriyakanthy Thavarajah, in Jaffna. On December 16, his decapitated body was found.

April 22, 2008
IIGEP wound up operations and during a press conference said it was not satisfied the way the Commission of Inquiry operated.

April 25, 2008
AG files indictment on Gajanayake and three of the five others arrested, with one of them turning State witness. In the end, he is an accused charged with abduction for ransom, aiding and abetting abduction and other counts.