Saturday, September 04, 2004

ICRC transfers bodies of LTTE killed by STF [TamilNet, June 05, 2001 11:35 GMT]

The bodies of 11 Liberation Tigers who were killed Monday in an attack by Special Task Force commandos in Kanjikudichcha Aaru, 84 kilometres south of Batticaloa, were handed over to the ICRC Tuesday Mr.Harasha Gunawardene, the press officer of the ICRC in Colombo told Tamilnet. All the bodies were transferred to the LTTE today, he said. He added that the body of a Tiger trooper was handed over to the LTTE Monday.

The 12 Tigers were killed in an attack by the STF in the Kanjikudichcha Aaru area Tuesday.

Kanjikudichcha Aaru is a large tract of dry zone jungle on the southeastern part of the island.

Massacre at Hue (Excerpt from the Viet Cong Strategy of Terror, Douglas Pike, p. 23-39)

The city of Hue is one of the saddest cities of our earth, not simply because of what happened there in February 1968, unthinkable as that was. It is a silent rebuke to all of us, inheritors of 40 centuries of civilization, who in our century have allowed collectivist politics-abstractions all-to corrupt us into the worst of the modern sins, indifference to inhumanity.

What happened in Hue should give pause to every remaining civilized person on this planet. It should be inscribed, so as not to be forgotten, along with the record of other terrible visitations of man's inhumanity to man which stud the history of the human race.

Hue is another demonstration of what man can bring himself to do when he fixes no limits on political action and pursues incautiously the dream of social perfectibility.

What happened in Hue, physically, can be described with a few quick statistics. A Communist force which eventually reached 12,000 invaded the city the night of the new moon marking the new lunar year, January 30, 1968. It stayed for 26 days and then was driven out by military action.

In the wake of this Tet offensive, 5,800 Hue civilians were dead or missing. It is now known that most of them are dead. The bodies of most have since been found in single and mass graves throughout Thua Thien Province which surrounds this cultural capital of Vietnam.

Such are the skeletal facts, the important statistics. Such is what the incurious word knows any thing at all about Hue, for this is what was written, modestly by the word's press. Apparently it made no impact on the world's mind or conscience. For there was no agonized outcry. No demonstration at North Vietnamese embassies around the world.

In a tone beyond bitterness, the people there will tell you that the world does not know what happened in Hue or, if it does, does not care

The Battle

The Battle of Hue was part of the Communist Winter-Spring campaign of 1967-68. The entire campaign was divided into three phases:

Phase I came in October, November, and December of 1967 and entailed "coordinated fighting methods," that is, fairly large, set-piece battles against important fixed installations or allied concentrations. The battles of Loc Ninh in Binh Long Province, Dak To in Kontum Province, and Con Tien in Quang Tri Province, all three in the mountainous interior of South Vietnam near the Cambodian and Lao borders, were typical and, in fact, major elements in Phase I.

Phase II came in January, February, and March of 1968 and involved great use of "independent fighting methods," that is, large numbers of attacks by fairly small units, simultaneously, over a vast geographic area and using the most refined and advanced techniques of guerrilla war. Whereas Phase I was fought chiefly with North Vietnamese Regular (PAVN) troops (at that time some 55,000 were in the South), Phase II was fought mainly with Southern Communist (PLAF) troops. The crescendo of Phase II was the Tet offensive in which 70,000 troops attacked 32 of South Vietnam's largest population centres, including the city of Hue.

Phase III, in April, May, and June of 1968, originally was to have combined the independent and coordinated fighting methods, culminating in a great fixed battle somewhere. This was what captured documents guardedly referred to as the "second wave". Possibly it was to have been Khe Sanh, the U.S. Marine base in the far northern corner of South Vietnam. Or perhaps it was to have been Hue. There was no second wave chiefly because events in Phases I and II did not develop as expected. Still, the war reached its bloodiest tempo in eight years then, during the period from the Battle of Hue in February until the lifting of the siege of Khe Sanh in late summer.

American losses during those three months averaged nearly 500 killed per week; the South Vietnamese (GVN) losses were double that rate; and the PAVN-PLAF losses were nearly eight times the American loss rate.

In the Winter-Spring Campaign, the Communists began with about 195,000 PLAF main force and PAVN troops. During the nine months they lost (killed or permanently disabled) about 85,000 men.

The Winter-Spring Campaign was an all-out Communist bid to break the back of the South Vietnamese armed forces and drive the government, along with the Allied forces, into defensive city enclaves. Strictly speaking, the Battle of Hue was part of Phase I rather than Phase II since it employed "co-ordinated fighting methods" and involved North Vietnamese troops rather than southern guerrillas. It was fought, on the Communist side, largely by two veteran North Vietnamese army divisions: The Fifth 324-B, augmented by main forces battalions and some guerrilla units along with some 150 local civilian commissars and cadres.

Briefly the Battle of Hue consisted of these major developments:

The initial Communist assault, chiefly by the 800th and 802nd battalions, had the force and momentum to carry it across Hue. By dawn of the first day the Communists controlled all the city except the headquarters of the First ARVN Division and the compound housing American military advisors. The Vietnamese and Americans moved up reinforcements with orders to reach the two holdouts and strengthen them. The Communists moved up another battalion, the 804th, with orders to intercept the reinforcement forces. This failed, the two points were reinforced and never again seriously threatened.

The battle then took on the aspects of a siege. The Communists were in the Citadel and on the western edge of the city. The Vietnamese and Americans on the other three sides, including that portion of Hue south of the river, determined to drive them out, hoping initially to do so with artillery fire and air strikes. But the Citadel was well built and soon it became apparent that if the Communists' orders were to hold, they could be expelled only by city warfare, fighting house by house and block by block, a slow and costly form of combat. The order was given.

By the third week of February the encirclement of the Citadel was well under way and Vietnamese troops and American Marines were advancing yard by yard through the Citadel. On the morning of February 24, Vietnamese First Division soldiers tore down the Communist flag that had flown for 24 days over the outer wall and hoisted their own. The battle was won, although sporadic fighting would continue outside the city. Some 2,500 Communists died during the battle and another 2,500 would die as Communists elements were pursued beyond Hue. Allied dead were set at 357.

The Finds

In the chaos that existed following the battle, the first order of civilian business was emergency relief, in the form of food shipments, prevention of epidemics, emergency medical care, etc. Then came the home rebuilding effort. Only later did Hue begin to tabulate its casualties. No true post-attack census has yet been taken. In March local officials reported that 1,900 civilians were hospitalized with war wounds and they estimated that some 5,800 persons were unaccounted for.

The first discovery of Communist victims came in the Gia Hoi High School yard, on February 26 ; eventually 170 bodies were recovered.

In the next few months 18 additional grave sites were found, the largest of which were Tang Quang Tu Pagoda (67 victims), Bai Dau (77), Cho Thong area (an estimated 100), the imperial tombs area (201), Thien Ham (approximately 200), and Dong Gi (approximately 100). In all, almost 1,200 bodies were found in hastily dug, poorly concealed graves.

At least half of these showed clear evidence of atrocity killings: hands wired behind backs, rags stuffed in mouths, bodies contorted but without wounds (indicating burial alive). The other nearly 600 bore wound marks but there was no way of determining whether they died by firing squad or incidental to the battle.

The second major group of finds was discovered in the first seven months of 1969 in Phu Thu district-the Sand Dune Finds and Le Xa Tay-and Huong Thuy district-Xuan Hoa-Van Duong-in late March and April. Additional grave sites were found in Vinh Loc district in May and in Nam Hoa district in July.

The largest of this group were the Sand Dune Finds in the three sites of Vinh Luu, Le Xa Dong and Xuan 0 located in rolling, grasstufted sand dune country near the South China Sea. Separated by salt-marsh valleys, these dunes were ideal for graves. Over 800 bodies were uncovered in the dunes.

In the Sand Dune Find, the pattern had been to tie victims together in groups of 10 or 20, line them up in front of a trench dug by local corvee labour and cut them down with submachine gun (a favourite local souvenir is a spent Russian machine gun shell taken from a grave). Frequently the dead were buried in layers of three and four, which makes identification particularly difficult.

In Nam Hoa district came the third, or Da Mai Creek Find, which also has been called the Phu Cam death march, made on September 19, 1969. Three Communist defectors told intelligence officers of the 101st Airborne Brigade that they had witnessed the killing of several hundred people at Da Mai Creek, about 10 miles south of Hue, in February of 1968. The area is wild, unpopulated, virtually inaccessible. The Brigade sent in a search party, which reported that the stream contained a large number of human bones.

By piecing together bits of information, it was determined that this is what happened at Da Mai Creek: On the fifth day of Tet in the Phu Cam section of Hue, where some three-quarters of the City's 40,000 Roman Catholics lived, a large number of people had taken sanctuary from the battle in a local church, a common method in Vietnam of escaping war. Many in the building were not in fact Catholic.

A Communist political commissar arrived at the church and ordered out about 400 people, some by name and some apparently because of their appearance (prosperous looking and middle-aged businessmen, for example). He said they were going to the "liberated area" for three days of indoctrination, after which each could return home.

They were marched nine kilometres south to a pagoda where the Communists had established a headquarters. There 20 were called out from the group, assembled before a drumhead court, tried, found guilty, executed and buried in the pagoda yard. The remainder were taken across the river and turned over to a local Communist unit in an exchange that even involved banding the political commissar a receipt. It is probable that the commissar intended that their prisoners should be re-educated and returned, but with the turnover, matters passed from his control.

During the next several days, exactly how many is not known, both captive and captor wandered the countryside. At some point the local Communists decided to eliminate witnesses: Their captives were led through six kilometres of some of the most rugged terrain in Central Vietnam, to Da Mai Creek. There they were shot or brained and their bodies left to wash in the running stream.

The 101st Airborne Brigade burial detail found it impossible to reach the creek overland, roads being non-existent or impassable. The creek's foliage is what in Vietnam is called double-canopy, that is, two layers, one consisting of brush and trees close to the ground, and the second of tall trees whose branches spread out high above. Beneath is permanent twilight. Brigade engineers spent two days blasting a hole through the double-canopy by exploding dynamite dangled on long wires beneath their hovering helicopters. This cleared a landing pad for helicopter hearses. Quite clearly this was a spot where death could be easily hidden even without burial.

The Da Mai Creek bed, for nearly a hundred yards up the ravine, yielded skulls, skeletons and pieces of human bones. The dead had been left above ground (for the animists among them, this meant their souls would wander the lonely earth forever, since such is the fate of the unburied dead), and 20 months in the running stream had left bones clean and white.

Local authorities later released a list of 428 names of persons whom they said had been positively identified from the creek bed remains. The Communists' rationale for their excesses was elimination of "traitors to the revolution." The list of 428 victims breaks down as follows: 25 per cent military: two officers, the rest NCO's and enlisted men; 25 per cent students; 50 per cent civil servants, village and hamlet officials, service personnel of various categories, and ordinary workers.

The fourth or Phu Thu Salt Flat Finds came in November, 1969, near the fishing village of Luong Vien some ten miles east of Hue, another desolate region. Government troops early in the month began an intensive effort to clear the area of remnants of the local Communist organization. People of Luong Vien, population 700, who had remained silent in the presence of troops for 20 months apparently felt secure enough from Communist revenge to break silence and lead officials to the find. Based on descriptions from villagers whose memories are not always clear, local officials estimate the number of bodies at Phu Thu to be at least 300 and possibly 1,000.

The story remains uncompleted. If the estimates by Hue officials are even approximately correct, nearly 2,000 people are still missing. Re-capitulation of the dead and missing

After the battle, the GVN's total estimated civilian casualties resulting from Battle of Hue 7600

Wounded (hospitalized or outpatients) with injures attributable to warfare -1900 subtotal 5700

Estimated civilian deaths due to accident of battle -844

subtotal 4756

First finds-bodies discovered immediately post battle, 1968 -1173

subtotal 3583

Second finds, including Sand Dune finds, March-July, 1969 (est.) -809

subtotal 2774

Third find, Da Mai Creek find (Nam Hoa district) September, 1969 -428

subtotal 2346

Fourth Finds-Phu Thu Salt Flat find, November, 1969 (est.) -300

subtotal 2046

Miscellaneous finds during 1969 (approximate) -100


[1] SEATO: South East Asia Organization.

[2] PAVN: People's Army of Vietnam, soldiers of North Vietnam Army serving in the South, number currently 105,000.

[3] PLAF: People's Liberation Armed Force, Formerly called the National Liberation Front Army.

Communist Rationale

The killing in Hue that added up to the Hue Massacre far exceeded in numbers any atrocity by the Communists previously in South Vietnam. The difference was not only one in degree but one in kind. The character of the terror that emerges from an examination of Hue is quite distinct from Communist terror acts elsewhere, frequent or brutal as they may have been.

The terror in Hue was not a morale building act-the quick blow deep into the enemy's lair which proves enemy vulnerability and the guerrilla's omnipotence and which is quite different from gunning down civilians in areas under guerrilla control. Nor was it terror to advertise the cause. Nor to disorient and psychologically isolate the individual, since the vast majority of the killings were done secretly. Nor, beyond the blacklist killings, was it terror to eliminate opposing forces.

Hue did not follow the pattern of terror to provoke governmental over-response since it resulted in only what might have been anticipated-government assistance. There were elements of each objective, true, but none serves to explain the widespread and diverse pattern of death meted out by the Communists.

What is offered here is a hypothesis which will suggest logic and system behind what appears to be simple, random slaughter. Before dealing with it, let us consider three facts which constantly reassert themselves to a Hue visitor seeking to discover what exactly happened there and, more importantly, exactly why it happened. All three fly in the face of common sense and contradict to a degree what has been written. Yet, in talking to all sources-province chief, police chief, American advisor, eye witness, captured prisoner, hoi chanh (defector) or those few who miraculously escaped a death scene-the three facts emerge again and again.

The first fact, and perhaps the most important, is that despite contrary appearances virtually no Communist killing was due to rage, frustration, or panic during the Communist withdrawal at the end. Such explanations are frequently heard, but they fail to hold up under scrutiny. Quite the contrary, to trace back any single killing is to discover that almost without exception it was the result of a decision rational and justifiable in the Communist mind. In fact, most killings were, from the Communist calculation, imperative.

The second fact is that, as far as can be determined, virtually all killings were done by local Communist cadres and not by the ARVN troops or Northerners or other outside Communists. Some 12,000 ARVN troops fought the battle of Hue and killed civilians in the process but this was incidental to their military effort. Most of the 150 Communist civilian cadres operating within the city were local, that is from the Thua Thien province area. They were the ones who issued the death orders.

Whether they acted on instructions from higher headquarters (and the Communist organizational system is such that one must assume they did), and, if so, what exactly those orders were, no one yet knows for sure.

The third fact is that beyond "example" executions of prominent "tyrants", most of the killings were done secretly with extraordinary effort made to hide the bodies. Most outsiders have a mental picture of Hue as a place of public executions and prominent mass burial mounds of fresh-turned earth. Only in the early days were there well-publicized executions and these were relatively few. The burial sites in the city were easily discovered because it is difficult to create a graveyard in a densely populated area without someone noticing it. All the other finds were well hidden, all in terrain lending itself to concealment, probably the reason the sites were chosen in the first place.

A body in the sand dunes is as difficult to find as a seashell pushed deep into a sandy beach over which a wave has washed. Da Mai Creek is in the remotest part of the province and must have required great exertion by the Communists to lead their victims there. Had not the three hoi chanh led searchers to the wild uninhabited spot the bodies might well remain undiscovered to this day. A visit to all sites leaves one with the impression that the Communists made a major effort to hide their deeds.

The hypothesis offered here connects and fixes in time the Communist assessment of their prospects for staying in Hue with the kind of death order issued. It seems clear from sifting evidence that they had no single unchanging assessment with regard to themselves and their future in Hue, but rather that changing situations during the course of the battle altered their prospects and their intentions.

It also seems equally clear from the evidence that there was no single Communist policy on death orders; instead the kind of death order issued changed during the course of the battle. The correlation between these two is high and divides into three phases. The hypothesis therefore is that as Communist plans during the Battle of Hue changed so did the nature of the death orders issued. This conclusion is based on overt Communist statements, testimony by prisoners1 and hoi chanh, accounts of eyewitnesses, captured documents and the internal logic of the Communist situation.

Thinking in Phase I was well expressed in a Communist Party of South Vietnam (PRP) resolution issued to cadres on the eve of the offensive:

Be sure that the liberated ... cities are successfully consolidated. Quickly activate armed and political units, establish administrative organs at all echelons, promote (civilian) defence and combat support activities, get the people to establish an air defence system and generally motivate them to be ready to act against the enemy when he counterattacks..."

This was the limited view at the start - held momentarily. Subsequent developments in Hue were reported in different terms. Hanoi Radio on February 4 said: "After one hour's fighting the Revolutionary Armed Forces occupied the residence of the puppet provincial governor (in Hue), the prison and the offices of the puppet administration... The Revolutionary Armed Forces punished most cruel agents of the enemy and seized control of the streets... rounded up and punished dozen of cruel agents and caused the enemy organs of control and oppression to crumble...

During the brief stay in Hue, the civilian cadres, accompanied by execution squads, were to round up and execute key individuals whose elimination would greatly weaken the government's administrative apparatus following Communist withdrawal. This was the blacklist period, the time of the drumhead court. Cadres with lists of names and addresses on clipboards appeared and called into kangaroo court various "enemies of the Revolution."

Their trials were public, usually in the court-yard of a temporary Communist headquarters. The trials lasted about ten minutes each and there are no known not-guilty verdicts. Punishment, invariably execution, was meted out immediately. Bodies were either hastily buried or turned over to relatives. Singled out for this treatment were civil servants, especially those involved in security or police affairs, military officers and some non-commissioned officers, plus selected non-official but natural leaders of the community, chiefly educators and religionists.

With the exception of a particularly venomous attack on Hue intellectuals, the Phase I pattern was standard operating procedure for Communists in Vietnam. It was the sort of thing that had been going on systematically in the villages for ten years. Permanent blacklists, prepared by zonal or inter-zone party headquarters have long existed for use throughout the country, whenever an opportunity presents itself.

However, not all the people named in the lists used in Hue were liquidated. There were a large number of people who obviously were listed, who stayed in the city throughout the battle, but escaped. Throughout the 24-day period the Communist cadres were busy hunting down persons on their blacklists, but after a few days their major efforts were turned into a new channel.

Hue: Phase II

In the first few days, the Tet offensive affairs progressed so well for the Communists in Hue (although not to the south, where party chiefs received some rather grim evaluations from cadres in the midst of the offensive in the Mekong Delta) that for a brief euphoric moment they believed they could hold the city. Probably the assessment that the Communists were in Hue to stay was not shared at the higher echelons, but it was widespread in Hue and at the Thua Thien provincial level. One intercepted Communist message, apparently written on February 2, exhorted cadres in Hue to hold fast, declaring; "A new era, a real revolutionary period has begun (because of our Hue victories) and we need only to make swift assault (in Hue) to secure our target and gain total victory."

The Hanoi official party newspaper, Nhan Dan, echoed the theme:

"Like a thunderbolt, a general offensive has been hurled against the U.S. and the puppets... The U.S.-puppet machine has been duly punished. The puppet administrative organs... have suddenly collapsed. The Thieu-Ky administration cannot escape from complete collapse. The puppet troops have become extremely weak and cannot avoid being completely exterminated."

Of course, some of this verbiage is simply exhortation to the faithful, and, as is always the case in reading Communist output, it is most difficult to distinguish between belief and wish. But testimony from prisoners and hoi chanh, as well as intercepted battle messages, indicate that both rank and file and cadres believed for a few days they were permanently in Hue, and they acted accordingly.

Among their acts was to extend the death order and launch what in effect was a period of social reconstruction, Communist style. Orders went out, apparently from the provincial level of the party, to round up what one prisoner termed "social negatives," that is, those individuals or members of groups who represented potential danger or liability in the new social order. This was quite impersonal, not a blacklist of names but a blacklist of titles and positions held in the old society, directed not against people as such but against "social units."

As seen earlier in North Vietnam and in Communist China, the Communists were seeking to break up the local social order by eliminating leaders and key figures in religious organizations (Buddhist bonzes, Catholic priests), political parties (four members of the Central Committee of Vietnam), social movements such as women's organizations and youth groups, including what otherwise would be totally inexplicable, the execution of pro-Communist student leaders from middle and upper class families.

In consonance with this, killing in some instances was done by family unit. In one well-documented case during this period a squad with a death order entered the home of a prominent community leader and shot him, his wife, his married son and daughter-in-law, his young unmarried daughter, a male and female servant and their baby. The family cat was strangled; the family dog was clubbed to death; the goldfish scooped out of the fish-bowl and tossed on the floor. When the Communists left, no life remained in the house. A "social unit" had been eliminated.

Phase II also saw an intensive effort to eliminate intellectuals, who are perhaps more numerous in Hue than elsewhere in Vietnam. Surviving Hue intellectuals explain this in terms of a long-standing Communist hatred of Hue intellectuals, who were anti-Communist in the worst or most insulting manner: they refused to take Communism seriously. Hue intellectuals have always been contemptuous of Communist ideology, brushing it aside as a latecomer to the history of ideas and not a very significant one at that.

Hue, being a bastion of traditionalism, with its intellectuals steeped in Confucian learning intertwined with Buddhism, did not, even in the fermenting years of the 1920s, and 1930s, debate the merits of Communism. Hue ignored it. The intellectuals in the university, for example, in a year's course in political thought dispense with Marxism-Leninism in a half hour lecture, painting it as a set of shallow barbarian political slogans with none of the depth and time-tested reality of Confucian learning, nor any of the splendor and soaring humanism of Buddhist thought.

Since the Communist, especially the Communist from Hue, takes his dogma seriously, he can become demoniac when dismissed by a Confucian as a philosophic ignoramus, or by a Buddhist as a trivial materialist. Or, worse than being dismissed, ignored through the years. So with the righteousness of a true believer, he sought to strike back and eliminate this challenge of indifference. Hue intellectuals now say the hunt-down in their ranks has taught them a hard lesson, to take Communism seriously, if not as an idea, at least as a force loose in their world.

The killings in Phase II perhaps accounted for 2,000 of the missing. But the worst was not yet over.

Hue: Phase III

Inevitably, and as the leadership in Hanoi must have assumed all along, considering the forces ranged against it, the battle in Hue turned against the Communists. An intercepted PAVN radio message from the Citadel, February 22, asked for permission to withdraw. Back came the reply: permission refused, attack on the 23rd. That attack was made, a last, futile one. On the 24th the Citadel was taken.

That expulsion was inevitable was apparent to the Communists for at least the preceding week. It was then that Phase III began, the cover-the-traces period. Probably the entire civilian underground apparat in Hue had exposed itself during Phase II. Those without suspicion rose to proclaim their identity. Typical is the case of one Hue resident who described his surprise on learning that his next door neighbour was the leader of a phuong (which made him 10th to 15th ranking Communist civilian in the city), saying in wonder, "I'd known him for 18 years and never thought he was the least interested in politics." Such a cadre could not go underground again unless there was no one around who remembered him.

Hence Phase III, elimination of witnesses.

Probably the largest number of killings came during this period and for this reason. Those taken for political indoctrination probably were slated to be returned. But they were local people as were their captors; names and faces were familiar. So, as the end approached they became not just a burden but a positive danger. Such undoubtedly was the case with the group taken from the church at Phu Cam. Or of the 15 high school students whose bodies were found as part of the Phu Thu Salt Flat find.

Categorization in a hypothesis such as this is, of course, gross and at best only illustrative. Things are not that neat in real life. For example, throughout the entire time the blacklist hunt went on. Also, there was revenge killing by the Communists in the name of the party, the so-called "revolutionary justice." And undoubtedly there were personal vendettas, old scores settled by individual party members.

The official Communist view of the killing in Hue was contained in a book written and published in Hanoi:

"Actively combining their efforts with those of the PLAF and population, other self-defence and armed units of the city (of Hue) arrested and called to surrender the surviving functionaries of the puppet administration and officers and men of the puppet army who were skulking. Die-hard cruel agents were punished."

The Communist line on the Hue killings later at the Paris talks was that it was not the work of Communists but of "dissident local political parties". However, it should be noted that Hanoi's Liberation Radio April 26, 1968, criticized the effort in Hue to recover bodies, saying the victims were only "hooligan lackeys who had incurred blood debts of the Hue compatriots and who were annihilated by the Southern armed forces and people in early Spring." This propaganda line however was soon dropped in favour of the line that it really was local political groups fighting each other.

12 soldiers killed, 21 wounded in Tiger ambushes [TamilNet, May 18, 2001 07:51 GMT]

Twelve Sri Lanka Army soldiers were killed and 21 were wounded in two separate attacks by the Liberation Tigers Friday morning, said army sources in the northern town of Vavuniya. Earlier in a claymore mine blast on the Vavuniya-Mannar road, a SLA soldier was killed and another was wounded.

Seven soldiers were killed and 11 were wounded when the Liberation Tigers attacked an army vehicle with Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) at Sector 15 on the Mannar-Vavuniya road at 11.50 a.m., the sources said.

Five soldiers were killed and 4 others were wounded when Liberation Tigers ambushed an army patrol after setting off a powerful claymore mine, on the interior road from Mylankulam to Aaasikkulam, about 12 km. south-east of Vavuniya around 11.30 a.m., the sources said.

The wounded soldiers have been transported to military hospital in Anuradhapura, hospital sources in Vavuniya said.

Feared militia commander shot dead [TamilNet, February 18, 1998]

Rasasingham Seevaraththinam, 27, alias Sinnavan, one of the most feared Tamil ex-militants working for the Sri Lankan security forces in the Batticaloa district, was shot dead this morning around 8.30 a.m. near the Manmunai Special Task Force (STF) camp. The STF blamed the Liberation Tigers for the killing.

He had gone to pluck temple flowers in the camp's vicinity when he was shot dead, said Police sources in Batticaloa.

Sinnavan has been attached to the Manmunai STF camp for more than five years.

This camp is on the eastern shore of the Batticaloa lagoon at the ferry to Kokkaddicholai, a large village in the western hinterland which is under the control of the Liberation Tigers.

The Manmunai ferry is about 10 kilometers south of Batticaloa town. The STF has a camp and checkpoint here. The ferry carries the greater part of the traffic to and from the western shore (Paduvaankarai).

People passing through the ferry checkpoint, according to sources in Batticaloa, were screened by Sinnavan.

There have been regular complaints from civilians that he was engaged in extortion.

Local human rights activists have held him responsible for torturing civilians during cordon and search operations by the STF in nearby villages and during detention at the Manmunai STF camp.

The STF, however, claims that he was very effective in preventing LTTE infiltration into the government controlled parts of Batticaloa through the Manmunai ferry point.

The Liberation Tigers, according to the STF, had made several unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Sinnavan.

A miniature bomb concealed in a cigarette blew up on his face once but failed to kill him.

Sinnavan was a member of the Eelam People's Revolutionary Front (EPRLF) and worked with the Indian army from 1987 to 1990.

However it was widley believed by the public passing through Manmunai that he was a TELO member.

Sources in Batticaloa said he was one of the EPRLF cadres who led the conscription drive by the EPRLF in Batticaloa for the Tamil National Army which was raised under the Indian Peace Keeping Force in 1989.

The conscription made the EPRLF extremely unpopular in the Tamil areas of the island.

Sinnavan followed the Indian army to India when it was pulled out from Sri Lanka in early 1990.

He returned, according to local EPRLF sources, in early 1991 after the Sri Lankan army had moved into and consolidated its position in the Batticaloa town and the eastern coastal areas of the district.

Since then he has been working with the army and later with the STF they said. Sinnavan is from the village of Kokkaddicholai.


During my time in Viet Nam the ambush was the major form of operations used in my area. In the early part of my tour company and platoon operations were the norm. By the time I left the typical day would find my company broken down into five man ambush patrols. It took a lot of fun out of being a company commander when you rarely saw them all together.

The ambush patrol was honed to a fine art in Ranger School and I was well prepared for this kind of warfare. The thing that made it different in Viet Nam (other than the real bullets) was the fact that we did it day and night.

Most people would probably think that a soldier on an ambush in a real war would have trouble falling asleep. Wrong! It may be true on your first 'bush but pretty soon you have the opposite problem. It is extremely difficult to stay awake after humping all day. The typical ambush might have 100% alert until midnight, 2 people plus radio watch until stand to some ungodly hour in morning when you would go back to 100 percent.

It's pretty scary when you wake up to find everyone asleep. Occasionally I would fire a signal flare to wake everyone up and incidentally scare the shit out of them. Its easy to imagine that you see movement in your kill zone. Then you quietly wake everyone and get ready to detonate your claymores. False alarm. You don"t know whether the troops are mad that you woke them or glad that they avoided a fire fight. One night I kept imagining that I heard music. I crawled over to my radio watch to find that he had a transistor radio stuck in his ear. I'm afraid that I violated noise discipline when I broke the damn thing over his helmet.

The jungle can be a noisy place at night. I remember spending most of a night shaking a bush to silence a cricket. He chirped so loud, I couldn't hear a thing. Two other interesting sounds were the "Re-Up" bird and the "fuck you" lizard. Re-up is GI slang for reenlist. When the bird's comment was answered by the lizard, the troops were always amused and generally shared the sentiment.

I remember a few memorable ambushes. Soon after I joined Delta Company at Ft Apache an ambush almost resulted in my being physically assaulted by the mess sergeant. I had set up a textbook ambush about 500 meters from Apache. After a few hours our starlight scope picked up a viet cong to our rear. Damn! I guess that he didn't read the same textbook that I did.

The only real problem was that Ft Apache lay in the line of fire. There was a lot of pressure on us to produce a body count so I decided to give it a go. I called the radio watch at Apache and told him to warn everyone to get down. A few seconds later I told the machine gunner to fire a burst. My first confirmed kill. The next day we marched back to Apache for a rest. I was eager to present my trophy to the company commander and claim the accolades due the conquering warrior. As we approached the gate I saw the mess sergeant with his hands on his hips.

His eyes were wide open and he was obviously overwrought. When I pulled up next to him, I heard him babble something that sounded like, "Goddamnit EL TEE, (LT or Lieutenant) didn't they teach you at Fort Benning not to shoot up your Goddamned mess hall. I thought he was going to strangle me. Mess deflated my euphoria somewhat and I began to wonder if I had done the right thing.

I went in the corrugated metal building where the CO and the platoon leaders bunked. CPT Blue seemed in a fairly good mood. I only later found out that he had scratched his butt sliding on the rough concrete floor trying to put on his pants. He was too gracious to point out the new bullet holes in the 4 x 8 sheet of plywood that served as a company manning chart just by his bed. The other LT on ambush that night discovered a hole in his gas mask that had been in a duffle bag in his bed. He was not as gracious as the CO. The next day Mess showed me the several bullet holes through the walls of the mess hall, just above the oil drum revetting and a few feet above his bunk. I guess he didn't trust himself to say anything. I kept quiet too.

A favorite ambush was one where nobody got hurt, in fact, our intended victim literally felt no pain. New Year's Eve, 1968,found us on the inevitable ambush, this time near a small village. My men laid out the ambush with practiced dispatch and we settled in for the night. Around midnight, I heard some singing. We could see fairly well, perhaps because of the moon. I don't remember. The singing grew louder and louder. We were all awake and ready to kill. In a few minutes, a skinny old man on a bicycle weaved his way into sight. He was taking swigs on a bottle he was carrying and singing. My finger tightened on the clacker of my claymore.

As he reached the center of our kill zone, he fell off of his bicycle. He sat there laughing and singing. He tried to get back on his bike only to fall again. He kept laughing and singing. I heard other laughter around me as my men couldn't hold it back at the comical sight. Pretty soon we were all laughing. I didn't have the heart to kill him. The next morning several men came up to me and said they were glad I let him go. So was I. Hell! He was probably the local party secretary.

Before I took over the Recon Platoon they had an interesting ambush that some of the participants told me about later. The mission was to stop the nighttime use of the main road between Saigon and Long Binh. That was kind of like ambushing I-35. They were told not to blow any holes in the road as that would slow up the legitimate daytime traffic. After a while they saw a headlight heading south toward Saigon.

They opened up on motorcyclist with small arms and M-60 fire. Tracers went through his spokes and ricocheted all around the rider's head. He wailed on through until his lights faded in the distance. It was kind of embarrassing, not the kind of thing to enhance the Recon Platoon's warrior reputation. Vowing to do better next time, they waited.

A little while later two widely spaced headlights approached from the north. The same thing happened. They must have fired half their basic load at the guy. The sky turned red with muzzle flashes and tracers to no avail. Their effort was rewarded only by a slight shriek from the rider. The third guy must have seen what happened because he stopped and headed back north. He stopped after a hundred meters or so and turned around again. He ap proached the area of the ambush and stopped, apparently weighing the situation. His need to get to Saigon was greater than his respect for Recon's accuracy and he decided to go for it.

I don't know whether it was out of respect for the guy's bravery or out of fear that they would miss again but the platoon leader decided to let the guy go. I think the guys swore each other to secrecy because I never heard the story from anyone else.

Another kind of ambush that was widespread was the "mechanical ambush. Some unit came up with the idea and got lucky killing almost a whole platoon of enemy. USARV got word of it and decreed that each ambush patrol would set up two mechanical ambushes.

It was really a booby-trap made of claymores daisy chained with detonating (det) cord. This nasty device was activated by a trip wire. We took a the handle of a plastic C ration spoon and put a small hole in one end to which the trip wire was attached. Then we put electrical wire on a clothes pin so that the ends of the wire touched when the jars were closed. The clothes pin was attached to a stake and the end of the spoon was inserted into the clothes pin preventing electrical contact. The wire was stretched across a trail, the whole thing was camouflaged and only then was the battery attached

When the unsuspecting quarry tripped the wire, the electrical spark set off the claymores and hundreds of small steel ball bearings would mow down anyone in the kill zone. There were a few problems with the mechanicals. First of all, since they were unattended, Charlie could (and did) move your ambush so that the troops retrieving them in the morning would wind up the victim. Also, you had to be absolutely sure where you were when moving into your AP location so you did not stumble into a mechanical employed by another unit. I hope the damn things killed more gooks than friendlies.

Another interesting ambush happened soon after I joined Delta Company. One of my fellow platoon leaders had set up an ambush on a main rice paddy berm. A berm was much larger that a paddy dike and was usually used for travelling between villages. He had set up a strange ambush with a very small kill zone. He was in good shape if the enemy came through the rice paddy but that was unlikely. As it was, only one or two people could bring fire to bear to the front or rear of the berm. A claymore had been set up at either end of the berm.

It was almost a success in spite of the poor tactical setup. A bad guy came diddy bopping down the berm. He was picked up by the starlight scope and the platoon leader got ready to blow the bush. He coolly waited for the guy to get close so that he would blow the hell out of him with the claymore. When the guy was in the right place the PL squeezed the claymore clacker, causing an electrical spark to ignite the blasting cap that was screwed into the claymory. Instead of a huge explosion there was only a loud pop. It seemed that someone had taken the C4 out of the claymore and used it to heat his C rations. All the blasting cap did was blow the back off the claymore.

My collegue swung up his CAR 15 to shoot the guy but only got off one round before it jammed. It just wasn't his day. The gook shot him in the arm and disappeared into the dark. I was designat ed by the battalion commander to conduct an investigation into what went wrong. I had plenty to write about. While checking out the area I found a CHICOM pistol, complete with holster and belt. I foolishly gave it to the platoon leader who had been shot. I kept the belt and the the plastic pancho that was on the belt.

Early into the war the M-16 rifle had a reputation for jamming easily. That problem had largely been solved but not on the CAR 15. Its proper nomenclature was XM 177, Submachine gun, Commando. It was really neat looking. It was like an M-16 but with a short barrel and a telescoping stock. I later got one when I was recon platoon leader. I kept it for a week or so. One day I decided to test fire it and it would jam every three or four rounds. I sent it to the rear and asked the armorer to send me out an M-16.

Twelve SLA wounded in attack and own fire [TamilNet, June 16, 2001 16:53 GMT]

Six Sri Lanka army soldiers who were lying in ambush were wounded in Sector Eight on the Vavuniya-Mannar highway when the Liberation Tigers attacked them late Friday night around 11.40 a.m. military sources said. Six troopers of an SLA ambush party were injured when an SLA road clearing patrol opened fire them, mistaking them for Liberation Tigers, in the general area of Kalmadu, west of the A9 junction at Thaandikkulam near Vavuniya town Friday morning around 6 a.m.

The highway to Mannar is now held mostly by military trained Sri Lankan Police units armed with Rocket propelled grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, mortars etc.,

The elite Special Task Force commandos are also deployed in limited numbers on the highway with the Police.

However, regular units of the Sri Lanka army still conduct ambush and patrolling ahead of the forward defence along the highway.

STF, TELO stage intelligence gathering sweep [TamilNet, February 22, 1999 22:54 GMT]

The Special Task Force (STF) and the TELO paramilitary group began a joint operation this weekend to systematically interrogate all civilians suspected of having links with the Liberation Tigers in Aaraiampathi, a large densely populated Tamil village 8 kilometers south of Batticaloa.

The debriefing and documentation process that began this weekend is based on a list, prepared by the STF and the TELO, of all the families in the village from which one or more children were or currently are members of the LTTE.

The list also includes all persons in the village suspected by the STF of being sympathisers of the Liberation Tigers.

The operation has created panic in Aaraiampathi said residents.

Informed residents said the STF had carried out this survey in the villages of Thirukkovil and Thambiluvil in 1996 as a prelude to an order that all families suspected of having connections with the LTTE should leave the villages within 24 hours.

They said that they fear the same could happen in Aaraiampathy once the STF and TELO conclude their debriefing and interrogation.

Over the weekend, TELO cadres and STF commanders began visiting a large number of selected families in the village to pose the following type of questions:

1. when and under what circumstance did a son/daughter/brother/ sister join the LTTE.
2. What link does the family maintain with the particular relation in the Tigers? If none, how and why did the family lose contact with him or her?
3. What is the rank and current area of deployment of the family member who joined the Liberation Tigers?
4. Is any other family member in the LTTE or have joined it recently?
5. How many times has he or she come home since joining the Tigers?