Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Media victories, military victories and realities By Iqbal Athas

Ceasefire defunct, both parties prepare for escalation of undeclared war

Unlike in the movies where coming attractions are heavily advertised, it is just the opposite when it comes to the military.

Secrecy becomes the key element for safety and success of troops. The fundamental precept is not to alert the enemy. Not to warn them that tons of bombs would fall from the sky during air raids or fierce attacks would be thrust upon them when ground troops begin their assault. Not to rush them to be prepared.

This concept is among the basics inculcated to officers and men in all conventional military outfits around the world. More than 2,500 years ago, Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu underscored the essence of secrecy in his treatise The Art of War. Commenting on tactics, he said, "To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence. Nor is it the acme of excellence if you fight and conquer and the whole empire says "Well done!!"

"True excellence is to plan secretly, to move surreptitiously, to foil the enemy's intentions and balk his schemes, so that at last the day may be won without shedding a drop of blood. To lift an autumn hair is no sign of great strength; to see sun and moon is no sign of sharp sight; to hear the noise of thunder is no sign of a quick ear. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. But his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage..."

But, in Sri Lanka, the separatist war of near two decades, interspersed by phases of ceasefires and peace talks, has many firsts or preponderant peculiarities that are unmatched. The greater part of the war has been under a State of Emergency and resultantly during long regimes of censorship. The ongoing undeclared Eelam War IV, is no different. There are constraints on reportage. This is particularly after the Prevention and Prohibition of Terrorism and Specified Terrorist Activities Regulations. Thus, perhaps Sri Lanka is the only nation in the world where direct access to theatres of conflict has remained denied to the media.

There may be reasons, either good or bad. It comes at a time when the gulf between the military and the media in the developed world has narrowed dramatically. The military now goes to war with the media. Embedded journalists join the foot soldiers or travel in battle tanks and troop carriers to report from the war zones. People throughout the world, including Sri Lankans, are able to see from their bedrooms and living rooms the goings on in other conflict zones, like for example, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechniya or until recently in Nepal.

A question that merits greater study is why the gulf between the media and the defence establishment has widened in Sri Lanka. Barring some exceptions, successive administrations have, perhaps quite efficiently, succeeded in telling their story, be it the whole truth, half truth or no truth. The response to "dissenting" or different versions, more than anytime in the past, has become vicious and insidious. They are not to counter such versions but to target those who author them. For obvious reasons, one cannot bare details of these sinister and shameless campaigns to hide the truth through intimidation and by infusing fear. Thus, "media victories," if one looks in retrospect over the past two decades, have largely overtaken "military victories." Some battles have been won in the news pages, prime time TV or radio and lost on the ground.

On the other hand, there have also been "military victories" over the years that have been exceptional. Successive Governments failed to take maximum advantage of some of them. The best example is the series of operations codenamed Riviresa to re-capture the Jaffna peninsula from the LTTE. It began on October 17, 1995. Weeks later, the conclusion of four different phases of the operation led to Security Forces taking full control. That is how the Jaffna peninsula, barring some small areas, is still under Government control.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the arguments for or against the CFA, the signing of this document was only possible because of the one time People's Alliance Government (PA). It is the PA regime's military action that led to the re-capture of the Jaffna peninsula. Without that re-capture, a CFA would not have been viable since the LTTE would have continued to dominate the peninsula. They were also, at that time, dominating most parts of the Wanni. Thus, from an LTTE perception the need for a ceasefire agreement would not have arisen. Hence, the CFA was built on the PA Government's military success.

That Ceasefire Agreement signed by the then UNF Government with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) turned five years last Wednesday. The resultant ceasefire is the longest though fighting escalated in the latter period. A statement received by the Colombo based media on Thursday night saw the LTTE, for the first time; drop a bombshell about the CFA. In their own words, they described how useful the five-year-old document has been.

The statement declared that the CFA "recognized Tamil Eelam's de facto existence, with its unique characteristics: a distinct population; a government comprising a defence force; a police force, a judiciary, a civil administration and other institutions for effective governance of a people, and capability of entering into agreements with other governments with a line of control reflecting the ground reality of the existence of the Tamil homeland demarcated with recognized borders. The CFA recognized the balance of power between the GOSL and the LTTE and was premised on this balance of power."

So, at long last, the LTTE has publicly admitted the benefits that flowed from the CFA - the creation of a state in waiting. And equally significant, the concluding paragraph of the statement said, "The marginalization of the 2002 CFA, which would have been a step towards just peace, has destroyed the confidence of the Tamil people and their expectations regarding future peace efforts. The Sri Lankan Government's ongoing war of aggression, aimed at the subjugation of the Tamil people under the guise of 'war on Terrorism,' will add to the bloodstained pages of the island's history. It has also compelled the Tamil people to resume their freedom struggle to realize their right to self-determination and to achieve statehood."

The LTTE's seven page statement traces, from its point of view, the events that have occurred since the CFA was signed. It is strongly critical of President Rajapaksa and his administration. It says that humanitarian and human rights crisis is deepening. An international bias against the LTTE, it argues, has strengthened Government's intransigence and encouraged an even more hard line.

The statement assumes the character of a "charge sheet" being served on the Government. There are overtones of a military response in the light of this.

What does the LTTE mean by saying that the ongoing "war on terrorism" will add to "bloodstained pages of the island's history"? What does it mean when they say that it has also "compelled the Tamil people to resume their freedom struggle to realize their right to self-determination and to achieve statehood"?

Is it a re-iteration of their previous assertions that they were veering away further from the CFA to the battlefield? Is it a forewarning of things to come?

This is the third time in the past three months that similar statements have been made. On "Maveerar (Great Heroes) Day" on November 27, last year, LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran declared "the uncompromising stance of Sinhala chauvinism has left us with no other option but an independent state for the people of Tamil Eelam…" In a statement issued after talks Norway's special envoy to the peace process, Jon Hanssen Bauer held with Political Wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan in Kilinochchi, in December, last year, the LTTE warned that a "military solution will steadily push the island into monumental irrecoverable state of destruction."

In the coming weeks and months that will naturally turn the focus to the battlefields of the north, east and other parts of the country. In the weeks that preceded the launch of Operations Riviresa, then Deputy Minister of Defence, Anuruddha Ratwatte, who once had undisputed control over the military, made a string of public announcements that Security Forces would soon re-capture Jaffna peninsula. It later became very clear that the LTTE had, taking the cue, evolved counter measures.

Whilst preparing to resist a military advance, to cause maximum damage to men and material, they immediately embarked on counter measures. Most of their military equipment was moved hurriedly across the Kilali lagoon to Wanni mainland. When the LTTE lost Jaffna in December 1995, it was widely believed then that the guerrillas had received the severest blow to their military machine. Yet, barely eight months later, on July 18, 1996, they carried out a conventional style attack on the Mullaitivu Security Forces complex, then headquarters of the 225 Brigade.

Shocking statistics

Deputy Defence Minister Ratwatte told Parliament on August 7, 1996 that the strength at the Mullaitivu military base was 1407. They were made up as follows: Army 1268, Navy 9, Police 49 and civilians 81. "We can conclude as killed in action only 12," he said. The ICRC had handed over 415 bodies which were not identifiable and a further 43 have been categorized as Missing in Action (MIA). With a tight censorship in force, the matter ended there.

Shocking details of the incident were later unearthed by a four member Army Court of Inquiry headed by Major General (now retired) Patrick Fernando. Their 125 page report, with its contents still unpublicized, revealed that two officers and 62 soldiers had returned. With the 12 declared dead and 64 who returned, those who were then declared missing were 1331 Security Forces personnel. Together with the civilian staff, the toll of those now established as dead in the incident, still the worst single one in Sri Lanka's military history is 1627 persons. That number includes the 71 troops engaged in Operation Trivida Pahara, launched as a rescue effort. The Court of Inquiry findings revealed that nearly Rs. 290 million rupees of military and other hardware were destroyed, damaged or was seized by the guerrillas.

In the recent weeks, some military top brass have not confined their plans to attack the LTTE and re-capture Toppigala (north west of Batticaloa) to closed door conferences or to the National Security Council. Departing from customary military tradition, they have announced publicly that their next target would be Toppigala. Thus, the LTTE has been put on notice. The logical choices for them would be to stay put, fight and withdraw when they come under heavy pressure. They did so in Sampur and later in Vakarai. The Army has focused on Toppigala since a larger concentration of guerrilla cadres fled to that area when they hurriedly vacated Vakarai. Intelligence sources speak of cadres stockpiling food. How the guerrillas fled is still a hot topic, with the Army insisting that they moved by sea. However, the Navy argues it was through land routes. They claim that their radars had not monitored large scale boat movements during that period.

Toppigala, also known as Baron's Cap (or Kudumbimalai in Tamil) is located north west of Batticaloa. Whilst the area is made up of thick jungle, paddy and chena cultivations lay on the outer fringes. It is fed by water from Tharavikulam, Vadamunai and Vakaneri tanks. There are four different access routes to the area - Padiyatalawa - Pullumalai Road, Batticaloa-Pullumalai Road, Chenkaladi-Pullumalai Road and the Ampara Central Camp - Batticaloa Road (off the main Polonnaruwa - Batticaloa highway)

Toppigala, where LTTE groups that fled the Vakarai area are reportedly concentrated in numbers, has been a hideout for guerrillas for over 20 years. This makes it different from Sampur, where a large LTTE concentration developed during the period of the ceasefire. When it was re-captured by the Security Forces in September, last year, they moved to Vakarai. The latter coastal town fell to the Army in January, this year.

The fact that a military offensive is in the offing in Toppigala has triggered off an exodus of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the area. The Korale Pattu South Division in the Batticaloa district, which encompasses the Toppigala area, has until last Monday recorded an exodus of 1,952 families or 7,640 persons. This is in the Batticaloa district. Those who have fled to IDP centres in the Trincomalee district are 835 families or 2,963 persons. This brings the total to 3,139 families or 11,710 persons. Officials say the number would be higher when those who have sought shelter outside IDP centres are taken into consideration.

By last Monday, the IDP count in the two districts stood at 20,812 families or 76,224 persons. The task of resettling them, particularly those from Vakarai, has become a formidable task. The subject figured at a top level conference in Trincomalee chaired by the Governor, Rear Admiral (retd.) Mohan Wijewickrema. In view of the reluctance of IDPs to return for fear of resumption of hostilities, representative groups are now being taken on conducted tours. They have been told to observe the normalcy brought about by the Security Forces before deciding to return.

The Army's 22 Division has given authorities the areas where re-settlement should not be carried out in the Trincomalee district. In other areas, particularly those near the strategic port, re-settlement would be 50 metres away from the main highway and 500 metres away from the coastline. The authorities in the two districts have set a target date of March 31, this year, by which time all IDPs should be re-settled.

This task will be daunting particularly in Vakarai and surrounding areas. Those who are to be re-settled will be required to undergo security screening. Police and Security Forces personnel will thereafter have to be present to prevent large scale infiltration and attacks. It will thereafter become a task to prevent the guerrillas, who are shifting from one ground to another as the Security Forces move in.

In the run up to the publicly declared push for Toppigala, troops have also begun limited operations to smoke out guerrilla positions south west of Trincomalee. One such operation got under way on Thursday in Kadawana, west of the Habarana-Trincomalee highway. In this area, the LTTE is said to have re-established a camp that had remained shut down. This is widely believed to be an area the guerrillas used to cross to their northern hideouts. Hitherto all offensive operations have focused largely on the eastern side of the highway. The Air Force has also carried out repeated air attacks on Kumburupiddy, north of Trincomalee, where the LTTE had expanded a base.

These developments come amidst a continuing military build-up by the LTTE in and around the Jaffna peninsula, as reported last week. There were reports this week that newly trained cadres were being deployed in their rear defences and other localities. The regular cadres were being moved to their frontline defended localities astride the one time Muhamalai entry-exit point. Food and ammunition stocks were being moved in large quantities to their front lines. Another unusual feature has been a series of lectures given by medical personnel to the senior cadres who are to be deployed on offensive roles. That is on how to cope with casualties including their evacuation from battle zones.

The Security Forces, no doubt, will be compelled to plan out counter insurgency operations in the wake of the new threats that are looming. Though in a much smaller sense, some of the observations a bulky US Army Counter Insurgency manual made public on December 15, last year, contains some interesting parallels. This manual spells out the American military doctrine and security policies for counterinsurgency (COIN). It is the first such manual since the end of the Vietnam war 30 years ago.

The introduction notes that the US possesses overwhelming military superiority. It notes, "This capability has pushed its enemies to fight US forces unconventionally, mixing modern technology with ancient techniques of insurgency and terrorism. Most enemies either do not try to defeat the United States with conventional operations or do not limit themselves to purely military means. They know they cannot compete with the US forces on those terms. Instead, they try to exhaust US national will, aiming to win by undermining and outlasting public support. Defeating such enemies presents a huge challenge to the Army and Marine Corps. Meeting it requires creative effort by every Soldier and Marine." Though in a lesser way, the same equation applies to the Sri Lankan Security Forces. In conventional terms, the LTTE is no match for them.

The manual says, "One common feature of insurgencies is that the government that is being targeted generally takes awhile to recognize that an insurgency is occurring. Insurgents take advantage of that time to build strength and gather support. Thus, counterinsurgents often have to "come from behind" when fighting an insurgency. Another common feature is that the forces conducting COIN operations usually begin poorly.

"Western militaries too often neglect the study of insurgency. They falsely believe that armies trained to win large conventional wars are automatically prepared to win small, unconventional ones. In fact, some capabilities required for conventional success - for example, the ability to execute operational maneouvre and employ massive fire power - may be of limited utility or even counterproductive in COIN operations. Nonetheless, conventional forces beginning COIN operations often try to use these capabilities to defeat insurgents; they almost always fail."

The manual asserts, "the military forces that successfully defeat insurgencies are usually those able to overcome their institutional inclination to wage conventional war against insurgents. They learn how to practice COIN and apply that knowledge."

For nearly two decades, Sri Lankan Security Forces have battled the Tiger guerrillas. Their strengths have grown and their arsenal has expanded. Billions of rupees have been poured to achieve higher levels of sophistication. More are now being poured as military procurements increase. Now, bigger challenges lay ahead as the protagonists flex their muscles disregarding the almost defunct five-year-old CFA.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Three LTTEers killed by STF by Rafik Jalaldeen

Three LTTE cadres were killed and several others injured when the STF beat back a Tiger attack on the Kohambagasthalawa Home Guards post on the Ampara-Mahaoya Road last morning. A Home Guard was killed in the incident, the Media Centre for the National Security (MCNS) said.

According to a spokesman for MCNS LTTE cadres attacked the Home Guard post in Kohambagasthalawa yesterday around 8.00 a.m. STF reinforcements were rushed to the scene.

The attack was successfully repulsed resulting in the deaths of three LTTE cadres with several others injured. The confrontation lasted for three hours and the Tigers fled from the area in the face of the retaliation, he added.

The spokesman said in a subsequent search of action, Security Forces recovered three hand grenades and three firearms. Meanwhile, 12 civilians were injured when a claymore mine went off in Aranthalawa, Ampara on Tuesday night.

The MCNS spokesman said 12 civilians travelling in a van from Nindavur to Kandy were injured when the LTTE detonated a claymore mine. The explosion took place opposite the plaque constructed to commemorate 30 Buddhist Monks and four civilians killed by the LTTE on May 1987 in Aranthalawa.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sri Lanka Police Special Task Force overrun Tamil Tiger child soldier training base in Amparai in the East

The elite commando unit of the Sri Lanka Police, the Special Task Force, (STF) in its twenty-first victory inside the dense jungles of Kanjikudichcha Aru successfully overran a training base of Child soldiers after some resistance from the rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), on Thursday February 1.

Military spokesman said the abominable camp, named ‘Jeevananda Base’ was a military garrison, where the LTTE kidnapped and hid hundreds of Eastern Province teenagers secretly, giving them a crash military course before sending them to battle fields.

There are reports that some of the child combatants were sometimes physically abused and also rarely sexually exploited by their trainers, regardless strict moral codes had been imposed on them. Attempts to escape from the camp had been sometimes punished with death.

“Unlike in the previous occasions,” said military sources, “the STF had to confront with some resistance from the terrorists. However, after a brief confrontation the terrorists had taken to their heels leaving the camp to the STF.”

In a continued military campaign to flush out terrorists from the thick Kanjikudichchi Aru Jungle aimed to put a complete stop to the terrorist attacks on nearby Sinhala Tamil and Msulim communities and especially to put an end to the child kidnappings from the nearby Tamil communities, the commando unit has been fighting since the beginning of January, the STF said. These jungles camps contributed to violence in nearby area civilian settlements in Amparai, Thirukkovil, Akkaraipattu, and Bakmitiyawa, the sources said.

Code named Niyatha Jaya or Definite Victory, in the campaign the police commando unit was able to over run many camps with no resistance but not this one. STF sources said radio communications overheard suggested that they had suffered 16 injured LTTE cadres before they retreated inside the jungle, after a brief confrontation.

Among the abandoned military gear by the Tamil Tigers were one machine gun (GPMG), 24 hand grenades, 300 ammunitions, communication equipment and two heavy earth moving equipment.

A large stock of rice, flour, sugar and dhal was also found in their store rooms.

In the attack immediately before this two camps containing a medical center were over run by the STF in the same jungles January 29. A large number of vehicles and generators were also captured then.

The STF sources said the offensive to rid the jungles of terrorists will continue until all camps are captured and destroyed.


Lankan war planes hit Tiger territory by PK Balachandran

The Sri Lankan Army's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) struck deep into LTTE-held Mullaitivu district in the Wanni region of North Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

The LRRP had used claymore mines to hit a hospital ambulance and a passenger bus near Nedunkerni, but the vehicles and the passengers escaped, said Rasaiah Ilanthirayan, the military spokesman of the LTTE.

"We have launched a cordon and search operation in the area," he added.

In another incident, two civilians were killed when four or five Kfir jets of the Sri Lankan Air Force bombed a civilian settlement at Parasankulam, near Puliankulam in the Wanni on Tuesday, Ilanthirayan said.

Siginificance of LRRP strike

What is particularly significant about the LRRP's strike is that Tiger chieftain Prabhakaran's hideout is believed to be somewhere in Mullaitivu district.

The deep penetration unit's attack had come in the wake of an artillery strike by the LTTE against the headquarters of an army regiment at Kodigamam in Jaffna district last Wednesday.

The founder-commandant of the new and elite mechanised infantry unit, Lt Col Ralph Nugera, was among a few other officers injured in the attack .One soldier had died.

Tuesday's LRRP strike had also taken place when preparations were on for a massive military campaign to rid the northern districts of the LTTE.

Bid to infiltrate navy camp near Colombo

A suspected LTTE cadre was shot dead as he tried to infiltrate theVijaya naval camp in Kalpitya, north of Colombo on Tuesday, the Media Centre for National Security said.


Hospital vehicle, passenger bus escape DPU attacks in Vanni

A van belonging to Nedunkerni hospital narrowly escaped from a Claymore explosion, triggered by Sri Lanka Army deep penetration unit ambushmen at Manavalanpaddamurippu village, 32 km southwest of Mullaithivu town around 7:15 a.m. Tuesday. An hour later, a civilian vehicle on Nedunkeni Periyakulam route narrowly escaped from another Claymore mine, according to Tamileelam Police officials.

Manavalanpaddamurippu is located in Oddusuddan DS division.

Nine persons including the driver were in the The Hiace van, travelling from Nedunkerny to Puthukudirippu.

The Claymore attack was triggered at the same place at Nedunkerny where in August 2006, five persons including the doctor were killed in a similar attack on the Nedunkerny hospital ambulance by the SLA deep penetration unit.

Residents of Pulliyankulam and Nedunkerny areas in Vavuniya district are moving in fear out of their villages.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Two more LTTE camps fall to STF - Kangikadaichi Aru

SL Police Special Task Force personnel continuing on the anti-terror operation "Definite Victory" (Niyathai Jaya) in Ampara district captured two more LTTE camps located inside Kangikadaichi Aru jungle last evening (Monday the 29th of January).

The STF sources said that they have found a large food storeroom and a medical unit in the two LTTE camps captured deep inside the woods in Gangamuwa area.

A large stock of medicine and dry foods believed to be donated by INGOs were also found inside the camps. Two double cabs, a van, a mini truck, three motorbikes and few generators are among the other items recovered in the latest phase of the operation.

In September 2006, the STF personnel launched their first anti -terror move in to Ampara district since the signing of 2002 CFA. Since the beginning of last year, the LTTE stepped up violence in Ampara, Thirukkovil, Akkaraipaththuwa, and Bakmitiyawa areas disrupting the normalcy.

The terrorists re-launched their ethnic cleansing campaigns against Sinhalese and Muslim civilians , while the Tamil civilians in Ampara were subjected to a massive recruitment drive that marked with large number of abductions and assassinations.

The STF , the government's only paramilitary has hitherto destroyed 20 odd LTTE strong hold located in the jungles in Ampara district during its operation.

following list of items were recovered at the Medical Center and the food storage captured by the STF personnel during the Operation.

At The Medical Centre

Two Double Cabs loaded with medicines

Three Motor Cycles

A Van (Dolphin)

A Double Cab (Nissan)

A Tractor

A Generator (20Kv)

Three Generators (2.5Kv)

Ten beds

Large quantity of Medicines

An Oxygen Cylinder

Office Equipments

A 21' TV

And at the Storage

Fifty two Rice packs

Twelve tents

Twenty five plastic buckets


Sri Lanka elite forces capture LTTE’s medical center

Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force yesterday captured LTTE’s medical center from Kanchikudichcharu along with a store of food items, the military said.

. “On a search operation conducted by the STF, troops found the LTTE medical centre called ‘Puvi Master’ and a store of foodstuff,” a military official said.

STF troops on reaching the location found that terrorists who were cooking meals had just left and fled the area, leaving behind a score of items including two double cabs, three mortar cycles, one dolphin van, one Nissan double cab, one tractor, three generators, service equipment, one oxygen cylinder, medicine, one TV set and furniture.

In the store that was captured there were 52 gunny bags of rice, 12 camping tents, 25 plastic baskets, stocks of medicine and a large number of empty bags with WFO emblem.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Kanjikudichchi-aru offensive enters critical phase, one more base overrun by Shamindra Ferdinando

The ongoing counter-insurgency operation in the Kanjikudichchi-aru jungles has entered a decisive stage with police commandos targeting small groups of terrorists operating in the area.

"We are actually in the third phase of the offensive," a senior para-military officer told The Island yesterday. Although commandos engaged in the offensive forced the LTTE to abandon almost 20 bases along with a large quantity of supplies, small groups are believed to be re-grouping.

The current phase of the offensive was aimed at wiping out them, he said. Aggressive patrolling would continue to seek out and neutralize the enemy units.

Commandos on Thursday engaged two enemy groups at Udimbikulam and Darampalawa. According to the STF official commandos the first contact had taken place at Udimbikulam where commandos overran an LTTE hideout subsequently identified as Jeevananda base. "We hit them hard," the official said that subsequent inquiries revealed that five LTTE cadres had succumbed to their injuries. Commandos had recovered one multi purpose machine gun with 300 rounds of ammunition, 24 hand grenades, two communication sets and a large stock of rice, dhal and sugar.

The second confrontation had taken place at Darampalawa where police commandos ran into an LTTE ambush. One commando had been wounded and evacuated to the government hospital at Ampara. His condition is reported to be stable.

Commandos had also located a caterpillar and an earth moving vehicle near the LTTE base located on January 29.

The expert acknowledged that the setting up of new permanent bases would take place as aggressive patrols seek LTTE cadres who had lost their permanent bases. He expressed the belief that the LTTE would try to side-step the ongoing operations. "They would subsequently mount attacks on isolated bases and foot patrols," he said. "In fact, we have adopted a similar strategy. We are setting up new bases and sending out patrols to scour the surrounding jungles."

The official pointed out that there was a huge difference between jungle operations and fighting in built-in areas. Since the launch of the offensive the LTTE threat on Sinhala and Muslim areas had lessened, he said.


STF's Repeated Attempts to Protect Ampara From the LTTE

On 19th February 2002, exactly five years ago, the STF was on a 72 hour ambush in the Kanchikudichchiaru forest reserve in Ampara to trap few LTTE cadres in hiding. The ambush suddenly came to a halt even before accomplishing its mission. The STF's attempt to protect Ampara from the LTTE had to be abandoned with the signing of the Cease Fire Agreement three days later on 22nd February 2002. The ambush on 19th February 2002 was not the STF's first attempt to drive out the LTTE. Their efforts date further back to 1991.

The STF launched a massive operation in Kanchikudichchiaru in 1991 following the LTTE massacre of 600 policemen in Thangavelayudapuram in 1990. The STF recovered the remains of the massacred police personnel towards the end of 1990. Intelligence sources had confirmed that the LTTE had just begun to establish camps in the area. After a successful operation, the STF dominated the area till 1995. However, due to political blunders the STF couldn't hold ground. To fulfill a short sighted political strategy, the STF was once again compelled to abandon the liberated Kanchikudichchiaru area to support the 'Riviresa' operation launched on 17th October 1995 to liberate the Jaffna peninsula and to wrest control of the A-9 road.

The STF withdrew from Kanchikudichchiaru opening the doors for the LTTE to gain control of the area again. Ever since 1995, the LTTE has been growing from strength to strength in Ampara controlling the daily life of civilians.

Today, after 15 years of its first attempt, the STF has once again regained control of a considerable area of the Kanchikudichchiaru forest reserve. The 'Niyathai Jaya' operation launched on 4th January 2007 is the STF's third attempt in clearing the Kanchikudichchiaru.

The Special Task Force under the ‘Niyathai Jaya’ operation has captured over 20 LTTE bases and satellite camps. On 1st February 2007 the STF captured the "Jeewananda Base” of the LTTE used for cadre training. Intelligence sources had confirmed that the tigers were using this base to train conscripted children while attacking the Security Forces at regular intervals.

Intelligence sources had also confirmed that the LTTE had planned to link the Eastern coastal belt from Vakarai to Verugal with Thoppigala and Kanchikudichchiaru in Ampara.

The Special Task Force launched the Niyahai Jaya operation on 4th January to liberate the Kanchikudichchiaru forest reserve from the LTTE. Speaking to MCNS, the Director Operations of the STF, SSP Ajith Wickremasinghe said that the presence of LTTE cadres in Kanchikudichchiaru had posed a serious threat on civilian settlements in the vicinity. The LTTE backed by infrastructure facilities in the area was controlling the daily life of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslim villagers. Complaints from the public against the LTTE’s abductions, extortions, forced recruitment, illegal timber, cannabis and ivory trade were on the rise, he further said.

On 18th December 2006, a group of LTTE terrorists abducted 22 school children and two teachers from a tuition class in Tirukkovil, Ampara. Civilian sources confirm that the children were forced into a van at gun point. The van was seen speeding towards the Kanchikudichchiaru area. Among the abducted school children were 7 boys and 15 girls. Following the abduction, a LTTE spokesman was quoted by foreign media as saying that the mass abduction of schoolchildren at Tirukkovil was a “serious mistake”. However, the LTTE was later compelled to release the school children due to enormous pressure exerted by their parents and the media.

On 2nd January 2007 in BAKMITIYAWA, a postman, his wife and two others (all Sinhalese) were abducted and killed by the LTTE. Subsequently, an 18 year old boy, Dayananda was abducted by the LTTE and the STF launched a search operation to find the boy. Later on the students of the MADAWALALANDA MAHA VIDYALAYA staged a protest against LTTE abductions.

The legendary eastern granary

Further, LTTE atrocities have denied farmers from using the KANCHIKUDICHCHIARU tank for irrigation. Fertile land in Pavattakulam, Vattamadu, Rufaskulam, Venmeadikulam, Kottevihara and Thangavelayudapuram, historically known as Deeghavapi has been denied for paddy cultivation by the LTTE.

Legend says that King Dutugemunu sent his brother to cultivate in the Deeghavaphi area. The abundant harvest and prosperity of Deeghavapi earned it the name, ‘The Granary of the East.’ According to legend, King Dutugemunu had visited the area and used water from the tank to prepare kanji, a thick broth made out of rice, coconut milk and water. Thus the tank is known as Kanchikudichchiaru, meaning ‘Kanda biuwa oya’ in Sinhala. In Tamil ‘kanji’ refers to thick broth while ‘kudingal’ and ‘aru’ means drinking and river respectively.

The STF says that the rocky area of Gandamegoda still bares evidence of ancient Buddhist shrines. Evidence also suggests the existence of Buddhist monks in ancient times. However, much of these sites have been plundered and destroyed by vandals.

'Niyathai Jaya'

On the first day of the 'Niyathai Jaya' operation, the STF sealed off the entry points to the Kanchikudichchiaru area. Police Commandos advancing from four directions cleared the area up to the LTTE cemetery. Then they set up satellite bases around the area. Following the establishment of satellite bases troops pulled back surprising the enemy. The STF was backed by the Air Force Kfir jets that bombarded the area ahead forcing the LTTE cadres to flee in disarray. In some LTTE satellite bases pots of rice and cooked food had been left behind by fleeing tiger cadres.

Day 6 and 7 of the 'Niyathai Jaya' operation brought heavy rains to the Ampara district. STF commandos couldn’t advance ahead of the cemetery due to heavy rains. However, they got the support of the Sri Lanka Army to bombard tiger hideouts with barrages of artillery amidst heavy rains which left the LTTE in total disarray. SSP Ajith Wickramasekara said that they knew exactly where LTTE camps were located. ‘Niyathai Jaya’ operation is based on a combination of “strong intelligence and tactics”, he further added.

Inside the Kanchikudichchiaru forest reserve certain LTTE camps have been located within a high security zone under thick forest cover with 24 hours of electricity supplied by 50 KV and 25 KV generators. These camps were believed to have been used by LTTE leaders. Evidence also indicates that access to these camps had been restricted to ordinary LTTE cadres.

The PARAMANANDA base had been used by PARAMANANDA MASTER, the LTTE leader in charge of explosives. The STF recovered a 29" Flatron TV and a DVD player from the PARAMANANDA camp. From other bases used by leaders, STF troops recovered 29" Flatron TVs, generators, Nissan vans, double cabs and satellite phones. According to the STF, most of the luxury vehicles left behind by the LTTE were booby trapped to cause maximum damage to advancing police commandos. However, the STF has been successful in overrunning LTTE camps with minimum casualties to own troops.

Elite cops also recovered around 30 generators both portable and fixed, water pumps, and other vehicles from the overrun LTTE camps along with 4 main storerooms packed with large quantities of tsunami aid including canned food, dry rations, sanitary, tents, large number of mosquito coil packets and sleeping bags. Almost all LTTE underground bunkers were roofed with sand bags made out of tsunami aid sacks.

To the surprise of the STF some infrastructure that the LTTE had been using inside Kanchikudichchiaru carried the names of some INGOs.

LTTE forced recruitment

According to defence analysts, chasing out the LTTE from Kanchikudichchiaru will further paralyze their recruitment from that region. According to statistics LTTE has conscripted 229 children from both Batticaloa and Ampara since the Ceasefire Agreement up to 13th January 2007.

441 LTTE cadres who have been killed since the CFA up to 2005 have been from the Ampara district. There has also been an increase in the number of LTTE surrendees from the East.

"I ran away from the LTTE 15 days after I was abducted but I couldn’t run very far. They caught me and beat me severely. It was Pahulmaran, the camp’s training master who hit me. He tied me to a tree for three days as a punishment for trying to escape”, revealed a 16 year old cadre, the youngest out of the five that surrendered to the STF camp in Sangaman Kanda in Ampara on 15th January 2007.

The youth who succeeded in escaping the second time said “They shaved our heads and gave us black T shirts to wear and then we were ordered to build bunkers and clean up the camps and move things”

These youth, residents of Tirukkovil, had been abducted by the LTTE in November last year and taken to a camp on the other side of the Kanchikudichchiaru tank, further interior of the forest reserve. The STF's 'Niyathai Jaya' operation to liberate the Kanchikudichchiaru forest reserve from the LTTE paved the way for these youth to escape the Tigers. Since the operation was launched 7 LTTE escapees have surrendered to the STF. Almost all LTTE surrendees have said that they trust the security forces. The presence of the Security Forces has also minimized the chances of their families being harassed by the LTTE.

Today, the STF has cleared a considerable area of the Kanchikudichchiaru forest putting an end to abductions, forced recruitment, extortions, illegal timber and ivory and cannabis trade.

“The key reason to launch ‘Niyathai Jaya’ was to chase away the LTTE from this area. The LTTE was a huge threat on people in this area. Once the area is cleared people could peacefully engage in their livelihood and use the natural resources of this fertile area without any intimidation or harassment from the LTTE” S.S.P. Ajith Wickramasekara said.

He also said that the STF is planning to rebuild the infrastructure so that people could engage in paddy cultivation especially in the legendary eastern granary of Deeghavapi.

(http://www.nationalsecurity.lk/fullnews.php?id=4234 )

Friday, February 09, 2007

Raiding Kafirs leaves Swarnam's base in tatters

This is what a 1000kg bomb droped could do a terrorist camp.

Has ‘Colonel’ Swarnam been killed or critically injured due to air force bombing ?

The security forces have taken the LTTE-held Vakarai region, wreaking heavy damages to the Tigers, the LTTE seniors appear to be in total disarray with the majority either fleeing the area or refusing to fight the military and waiting in their camps. The Wanni leadership had given orders to a few commanding level Tiger leaders to wait in the region and as a result a handful of seniors still remain in the area.

The latest reports indicate that LTTE’s military leader for Trincomalee ‘Colonel’ Swarnam is either dead or critically injured due to Air Force bombing.

While there is no official confirmation as to what exactly his plight could be, ground sources had confirmed that he was critically injured due to the bombing. The bombardment was carried out by the Air Force early this week following intelligence reports that a large number of LTTE cadres were preparing to launch an attack on the military in the Ichchalampattu area.

Hundreds of LTTE members in Batticaloa and Ampara districts had gathered in Verugal and the precision of the air attacks saw heavy casualties and damages to the LTTE.

Ground troops confirmed that the aerial bombing in the strategic Verugal area – ten miles North - West of Vakarai, from where a big terrorist build-up was reported, had among others killed the personal bodyguard of Swarnam. The same sources claimed that soon after the bombing, all radio communication by Swarnam too had stopped after the attack.

Ever since the fighting broke out in the region a few months ago, the LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran had ordered Swarnam to lead the military operation against the government security forces.

Exactly a month ago, Wanni Leadership directed the ‘Jeyanthan brigade’ which is tasked with the duty of protecting Vakarai from security forces to recapture what the LTTE has lost to the Army during the past few months.

The brigade had set off from the ‘Sembimale’ camp in Mullaitivu and moved to Vakarai area through Verugal as fishermen.

It is said that they were fully equipped to launch a major attack on the forces under the supervision of Swarnam, who is a close confidante of Prabhakaran.

Around 300-400 cadres have been thus camped in the area and had been collecting information from Kathirweli, Verugal and Vakarai. After the fall of Sampoor, the LTTE leadership was trying his best to get his cadres to hold onto Vakarai since the fall of Vakarai is likely to mark the last days of the LTTE in the Eastern province.

Ever since the fighting broke out in the eastern region, starting from Mawil Aru,the eastern leadership had been sending messages regularly to Wanni asking for assistance in the face of massive ground and air attacks from the government security forces.

It is now confirmed that in order to stop the government’s troops advancing, Swarnam had ordered his cadres to launch artillery attacks towards Sinhala settlements in Somapura and its neighbouring areas. The troops were forced to suspend some of their small operations as a result.

However the reason for the suspension of the main movements towards Vakarai area is something else. That is to ensure the security of some 40,000 still trapped in the LTTE held Vakarai area.

If Swarnam had been killed or even seriously injured, it would be a major setback for the LTTE, not only in the east, but also in the north as well.

Swarnam had led several successful operations against both the government security forces as well as the breakaway Karuna group.

Swarnam, who had led the LTTE’s elite force-Jeyanthan-brigade many a times, was the one who was assigned to kill LTTE’s former Eastern Commander Karuna after his defection.

After a major fight with the Karuna faction in Mavadichenai, north of Verugal, the Northern Tiger platoon led by Swarnam was able to chase the Karuna faction out of the area two years ago and take control of the entire stretch from Sampur to Mankerni.

However, there is no proper command for LTTE in Vakarai area since most of the seniors had left for Vavuniya and Kilinochchi. The LTTE Trincomalee district political leader Elilan and Batticaloa-Ampara Special Commander Banu were among the LTTE leaders who went to the north a few weeks ago after the outbreak of fighting in Vakarai.

Government’s military operations By Thursday evening, government forces were stationed in the strategically important Panichchankerni Bridge of the south of Vakarai, while in the north, troops were consolidating captured areas near the Verugal River.

A few months ago, the government forces launched an attack to capture the LTTE-held Vakarai. Since then LTTE power in the region was dwindling fast.

Right now troops are in full control of Panichchankerni and the nieghbouring areas.

From the north of Verugal, the government forces started advancing towards the south despite heavy resistance from the LTTE.

By yesterday noon military personnel were busy blocking the LTTE movements from all directions. A team from Mahindapura was proceeding towards Verugal area while troops from Threekonamadu were also advancing towards the Tiger held areas in Vakarai.

In Panichchankerni, the troops had reached the bridge.

Tigers had tried to blow up the bridge in order to block the troop movements towards Vakarai. But the military said the LTTE could only make two big holes in the bridge blocking vehicular movements.

Meanwhile another development is that the Karuna group had started hunting down for LTTE cadres fleeing Vakarai to Thoppigala jungle.

The Special Forces who led the operation, yesterday afternoon captured the south of Vakarai.