Saturday, July 14, 2007

LTTE loses Baron's cap; Troops reach Thoppigala

Commandos and soldiers of the SL Army have reached the Baron's Cap (Thoppigala) this morning (11 July) , said Defence sources in the East. With this victory, troops have captured the "nerve centre" of the LTTE terrorists' in their last stronghold in the Eastern province.

Meanwhile, troops have also gained the full control over Narakamula, and Tharavikulama areas where, the LTTE leadership had its' Eastern headquarters and other fortifications. The victorious soldiers are presently clearing enemy "pockets" scattered in the dense jungle and are pursuing the LTTE cadres who are on the run.

According to The Media Center for National Security (MCNS),during this operation army has captured two 120mm mortar guns and number of vehicles including five tractors, one bulldozer, one cantor truck, and two double cabs abandoned by the fleeing terrorists. The MCNS further added the troops still have to wipe up a large amount of booby traps, land mines and anti personnel mines left by the terrorists to claim the area fully cleared of the terrorists.

SL military undertook their noble mission to liberate the Eastern Province form terror clutches when the LTTE terrorists closed down the Mavil Aru anicut in June 2006. The terrorists launched a massive offensive against the security forces in August 2006 with the intention of capturing the areas South of Trincomalee district. Having crushed the terror offensive successfully, SL military liberated Sampoor , and Vakaria by January 2007. After liberating Vakarai, LTTE domination had been restricted to Thoppigala area where they had continued to attack civilians and the security forces in the Eastern province.

Since February this year, the security forces commenced their march into the remaining LTTE dominated areas in the East .

Police Special Task Force (STF) personnel moved from Kangikaidichchiaru northwards, wiping out LTTE bases up to Pillumalai while the SL Army soldiers moved westward from Vavunativu capturing Kokkadicholai, Ayittimalai, Unnichchai and Karadiyanru LTTE bases. By April 2007, the troops were able to capture the part of the A-5 main road between Chenkaladi and Mahoya.

Since then, SL Army soldiers were engaged in the Herculean task to capture dense jungle terrain in Thoppigala, which had been under the LTTE domination since 1994. The troops advanced from three frontiers namely; Karadiyanaru Northward, Sittandi Westward and Welikanda southward up against terror barricades, booby traps, land mines in the rocky jungle terrain.

The Eastern Province of the Island is made up of 9,965 square kilometers in extent and covers around 16 per cent of the total land area of Sri Lanka. The maximum length is 286 kilometres from Kumana in the south to Pulmoddai in the north-east. The maximum breadth is 89 kilometres from Ulhitiya in the west to Kirankulam in the East. The province is enriched with a 420 kilometre coastline (Ampara 110 kms, Batticaloa 100 kms and Trincomalee 210 kms). It is the only province with three airports at Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara.


Thoppigala victory severe blow to LTTE terrorism

EPDP, Karuna faction war spreads to the web

The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and the Karuna faction known as the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Perani (TMVP) have declared a cyber-war against each other as they prepare for local polls in the Eastern Province. Making full use of their web-sites, the two parties have launched scathing attacks, accusing each other of corruption, extortion of money and harassment of civilians.

The web war is taking place after recent clashes between EPDP cadres and Karuna faction members in the Batticaloa district. One Karuna faction member was killed and his funeral was held on Friday under tight security. The Karuna faction, in a message posted on one of the three pro-Karuna websites, accused the EPDP of imposing a ‘jungle law’ in some Jaffna islands and trying to do the same in parts of the Eastern Province.

The EPDP website hit back saying it had helped the Karuna faction to enter mainstream politics, but the former Tiger cadres had not “changed their stripes’. EPDP leader Douglas Devananda told The Sunday Times the rift began after he summoned party officials from Batticaloa for a Colombo meeting to discuss plans for elections for nine local councils in the East.

Nominations for elections to these nine councils, including the Batticaloa Municipal Council, had been called some time ago, but the government last week sought cabinet approval for legislation to invalidate those nominations. Fresh nominations are expected to be called soon after resettlement of displaced people is completed and voter registers are updated.

The first major clash between the EPDP and the Karuna faction took place when a group of armed Karuna cadres stormed an EPDP office at Kommathurai in Chenkaladi. Fighting lasted about one hour till the police and army intervened. On Thursday, EPDP and Karuna faction local leaders were summoned to the Army camp and warned to refrain from further violence.

However, hours later the Karuna faction issued notices banning the EPDP from operating in Batticaloa. But Mr. Devananda dismissed the Karuna faction threat and said his party was going ahead with plans to contest the local elections. Meanwhile, residents said Karuna cadres blocked the sale and distribution of the pro-EPDP mouthpiece Thinamurasu in the east.


Fresh deadly fighting in Sri Lanka

At least one soldier and "many" Tamil Tiger rebels were killed Saturday in heavy fighting between the two sides in northern Sri Lanka, the defence ministry said.

A dozen soldiers were also wounded as the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) traded heavy artillery fire across a defence line in Vavuniya district, the ministry said.

"It is confirmed that many LTTE terrorists were killed," the ministry said in a statement. There was no immediate comment from the Tigers.

The clash Saturday at Thampanai came three days after security forces wrested control over the final rebel base in the east of the island.

The LTTE admitted Thursday losing Thoppigala in the district of Batticaloa, but said it would now would revert to guerrilla tactics in the troubled region.

Fighting across Sri Lanka has worsened since the breakdown of a 2002 truce around 19 months ago.

Sri Lanka's 35-year-old conflict has claimed more than 60,000 lives, and over 5,200 people have been killed in fighting in the past 19 months, according to government figures.

The rebels are fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority on the Sinhalese-majority island.


Tigers kill soldier, wound 11 in Sri Lankan north

One Sri Lankan soldier was killed and 11 were injured in a clash with Tamil Tiger rebels in the far north of the island, the military said on Saturday, adding that it believed the Tigers had suffered heavy casualties.

The incident in the northern district of Vavuniya, which borders rebel territory, is the latest in a long string of land, sea and air clashes in recent months.

It came three days after the government declared it had driven the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from their last jungle stronghold in the east after months of fighting in which the military has had the upper hand.

"The LTTE were firing mortars and artillery and we confronted them ... there are a lot of LTTE casualties," military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe told Reuters.

"We also had one soldier killed and 11 injured," he said.

Sri Lanka has been gripped by renewed civil war since the collapse last year of a ceasefire agreed in 2002, with an estimated 4,500 people killed since last year alone.

The rebels, who are fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the island, said on Thursday they aimed to cripple the Sri Lankan economy with major attacks on military and economic targets.

Tiger political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan told Reuters in an interview that peace was "not possible" as long as Mahinda Rajapaksa remained president, pouring cold water on international efforts to halt the two-decade conflict.

The military has captured vast swathes of territory from the Tigers in the east in recent months, and now fighting is focused in the north, but analysts say they see no winner on the horizon.

The conflict has killed nearly 70,000 people since 1983.


Capture of Thoppigala

Thoppigala or Baron’s Cap, the last LTTE stronghold in the east from where the Tigers had reportedly planned and conducted operations in the province was captured on Wednesday after over five months of fighting against Tiger cadres. The soldiers who had sacrificed their lives and those who sweated and toiled in that inhospitable terrain away from their homes and loved ones deserve the nation’s encomiums for accomplishing this task. In fact, all peace-loving people, here and abroad, who abhor the use of terrorism and violence as a method of settling political disputes and problems, should hail this event as a blow to terrorism.

Following the customary political pattern in this country, different parties have viewed this event differently. While the government and its supporters have hailed this event as a great victory, the opposition parties, mainly the UNP, has trivialized the achievement dismissing it as a feat of no special significance. Both sides thus fail to view it objectively without being influenced by their party prejudices.

However, it would be clear to anyone who could look at issues objectively and dispassionately, bereft of political party prejudices and predilections, that the capture of Thoppigala was a significant success achieved by the forces in their campaign to clear the east of terrorist incursions in the area. Although there are still a few pockets of Tiger occupation to be cleared -according to Director-General, Media Centre for National Security Lakshman Hulugalla - the major clearing up has been completed successfully and Lion Flag hoisted on top of the Thoppigala mountain. It is indeed unfair to withhold commendation for this achievement when the Tigers themselves regard the loss of Thoppigala as a serious setback to their campaign to create their Eelam.

There is, however, no reason for much celebration in this respect since much more remains to be done to see an end to violence and bloodletting in this country. The authorities, therefore, have to be cautious and moderate in celebrating the event. They have to take special care to avoid giving the appearance of a celebration of a victory of the majority Sinhala over the Tamil community, in whatever celebrations they may plan to have. It should rather be treated as a national event in which all peace-loving people could participate, irrespective of ethnic or other differences.

The most appropriate form would be to make the proposed celebrations development oriented, as suggested by some sections in the government. They must be geared to reconstruction and development activities that would provide much needed relief to the people in the area who have suffered for long having been caught up in the armed clashes between the forces and the LTTE. The construction and renovation of houses, schools, roads, and other buildings would be a fitting form of celebration that the people in the area would appreciate.

The elated hardliner sections in the government may want to have elaborate ways of celebrating the event and would pressurize the government to extend the battle quickly to the North as well and go all out to have a complete military victory over the LTTE. But the most prudent approach would be to get the LTTE back to talks for a peaceful settlement of the problem.

Meanwhile, the ongoing southern political party rivalry has to be suspended and efforts should be made to have a common approach to the situation that has now arisen.

True, the government may attempt to glorify the present success and gain political mileage thus diverting the people’s attention from the problems they are burdened with. They may also try to submerge the allegations of corruption made against the government taking advantage of the present achievement.

These tendencies and predilections notwithstanding, priority needs to be given to solving the national problem through a combined effort on a common programme formulated after considering the views of all concerned parties.

It may be necessary for the opposition parties, in this context, to await at least a breakthrough in the effort to solve the national problem before pursuing the numerous charges they have levelled against the government. The phase the national question has entered now needs serious attention and consideration by all parties that have the country’s interest at heart.


SLA officer injured, a teacher dead in claymore attack in Jaffna

Unidentified persons triggered a claymore device Thursday around 6:30 p.m., targeting a high officer of Sri Lanka Army (SLA) 52nd Division, travelling in a pick-up through Thumpa'lai area in Point Pedro in Vadamaraadchi. The officer, seriously injured, was rushed to Palaali Military hospital, where he is said to be fighting for his life. A teacher, returning after prayers at the temple, happened to be passing the site of attack on bicycle, died due to shock, local residents said.

The dead teacher was identified as Maniam Kanapathipillai, 51, a staff of Point Pedro Sivapragasam Maka Viththiyaalayam.

Kanapathipillai's body, found with a minor injury, was taken for post mortem examination.

The attackers, waiting in ambush for the officer, had activated the claymore device which was hidden along the road.


Tamil rebels demonstrate military might

Tamil Tiger guerrillas in green-striped camouflage assaulted a mock government fort with gunfire, rockets and explosives Friday at a secret training base in separatist-held territory in northern Sri Lanka.

Rebels escorted reporters along back roads to the live-fire exercise to demonstrate they are still a powerful military force despite the government's announcement Thursday that it had won full control of eastern Sri Lanka for the first time in 13 years.

The Tigers said they have simply switched from conventional warfare to guerrilla tactics in the east, noting they hold a swath of territory in the north that they run as a virtual state.

"Gaining territory is not victory, it is a false hope. We will again come out and attack," said Lt. Col. V. Nishaanthan, who led the drills Friday.

Rebel leaders said the early morning exercise was practice for coming attacks on nearby government positions. As fighters prepared for the drills, artillery shells fired by government troops exploded in the distance.

Many of the fighters were in the striped fatigues that have become a rebel trademark. Others had olive green uniforms with ammunition vests. Many wore flip flops, and when they ran in formation a loud thwacking sound followed them. A few went barefoot.

Reporters taken to the base had to agree to keep the location secret. The training ground was an expanse of white sand, dotted with patches of brush. Rusty bullet casings lay on the ground, showing the base had been used before, but not recently.

"We can't keep a training base for a long time in this area," said Rasiah Ilanthirayan, the Tamil guerrillas' military spokesman, pointing to the threat of government airstrikes.

The drills began with three female fighters charging a foxhole. When they reached the ditch, one shot point blank into it several times.

When asked what the fighters would have done if the soldiers inside had surrendered, officials at first said they would take them prisoner. But Ilanthirayan laughed: "It's a war. It's not kindergarten."

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have been fighting for an independent homeland since 1983. The 3 million mainly Hindu Tamils have long faced discrimination from the predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese majority in the nation of 19 million people.

The conflict has killed an estimated 70,000 people on the island, which lies off India's southern tip. A 2002 truce has all but collapsed because of fighting over the past 20 months that has left 5,000 people dead.

Rebels have waged conventional military operations against government troops, but have also attacked military and civilian targets in government-held areas and carried out more than 240 suicide bombings. They are listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. and European Union.

"We can easily change our tactics and strategy from a conventional army to more of a guerrilla unit," said S. Puleedevan, secretary-general of the movement's Peace Secretariat, who escorted reporters to the base.

The rebel force, a cult-like army whose fighters carry cyanide capsules to swallow in case of capture, is thought to number about 10,000. Human rights groups criticize them for recruiting child soldiers — a practice the rebels say they will phase out by year's end.

The group also maintains a large flotilla that it uses for naval attacks and to smuggle weapons and goods to its part of the island. In March, the guerrillas staged their first airstrike, using a single-propeller plane to bomb an air force base next to the international airport outside Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo.

Government and rebel artillery routinely shell each other along the lines divided rebel-held territory and the largely government-controlled Jaffna peninsula in the north. The Sri Lankan army also sends small units into rebel territory to lay mines and carry out guerrilla attacks, human rights groups say.

The exercises Friday were geared toward more conventional fighting. During the main drill, soldiers took positions behind brush about 100 yards from the mock fort made of logs and mud and ringed by concertina wire.

The attack — intended to be a nighttime operation — began with the launching of a rocket-propelled grenade, and then a cacophony of rifle fire rang out. Three female fighters in the distance — dressed in the Tamil Tiger uniform of checked shirts and black pants, their long hair braided and tied into buns — manned a .50-caliber machine gun that laid down covering fire.

Fighters approached the fort in single file. Two ran ahead and pushed a long white pipe containing explosives under the first circle of concertina wire, then blew it up. Rebels said the obstacle-clearing weapon, known as a Bangalore torpedo, had been newly designed to be lighter and more powerful.

The attackers then blew up a second and a third defensive wall, sending sand flying into the air and shaking the earth. The fighters then overran the fort.

"This is very crucial to first attack the enemies' front line, to make a gateway to enter into the nerve part of the military complex," said Nishaanthan, the training commander.

Puleedevan, the reporters' guide, said the guerrilla force learned about warfare by studying Napoleon, Clausewitz, Machiavelli, the two world wars and the more recent fighting in Bosnia and East Timor as well as from its fighters' firsthand experiences.

"We learn everything, whatever is available, and we are still learning," he said.

Commanders also show their fighters films like "Saving Private Ryan," "Black Hawk Down," and "Finding Nemo," he said, without explaining how such entertainment helps train troops.

In brief interviews, several fighters repeated the group's rhetoric and praised the movement's leader, the rarely seen Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Nishaanthan said he joined the rebels 19 years ago "to liberate our Tamil people from the oppressors." Of the 300 people he first trained with, he knows of only 10 to 15 who are still alive, he said.

Thambiraja Ravindran, 26, a platoon leader, said he joined two years ago because "the oppressive force is committing a lot of atrocities against our people."

"We are not running as (the government) says. We are prepared to fight against all its movements and operations," he said. "We strongly believe, under the guidance of our leader, that we will soon achieve our goals, and those running will be the forces of Sri Lanka."


Sri Lanka: Thoppigala and after?

The Sri Lanka Ministry of Defence in a terse announcement said that the security forces had captured Baron's Cap (Thoppigala), the last stronghold of the LIberataion Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the east. This success was awaited for the last three months.

The fall of Kokkadicholai, approximately 14 km south of Batticaloa, on March 28, 2007 had kindled high public expectations of Thoppigala's capture any time soon. This was only to be expected as the security forces had almost ended the LTTE domination of highways A5 on the west and A27 on the southwest that provided depth to the Thoppigala base. But it had taken three months for nearly two brigade strong troops to gain control of Thoppigala, manned by 300 to 400 LTTE cadres. And that is one fourth of the total time taken for the mission of 'wresting control of east from the LTTE.' This was no surprise as the nature of terrain and the extensive booby trapping and mining had made progress of security forces slow.

Fortunately for them, the security forces were not been taken in by public expectations in planning the operations. They appear to have conducted the operations focusing on three aspects: minimising own casualty, attrition of LTTE defenders and concentration of superior fire power and force. Though there must have been every political temptation to speed up the operation, the Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka appears to have maintained to his style of progressive consolidation of successes. With this he has enabled the forces to minimise casualties, which is a great morale booster for future operations. The coordinated use of air force fighters and multi-barrel rockets appear to have been well thought of as they demoralise defenders even if they don't inflict huge casualties. This is likely to be a regular feature of operations in the future.

The LTTE on its part, despite the military setbacks in the east over the last one year and its ongoing feud with Karuna for even a longer period, appear to have been well prepared for the inevitable. This involved pulling out cadres from other areas as ad when they became indefensible to fall back upon main defences. Despite the loss of most of the artillery assets in earlier operations, it is significant that the LTTE had retained essential artillery fire power till the last days, abandoning cumbersome assets. Young LTTE deserters had reported LTTE's loss of morale in the face of casualties, food shortage etc. However, this does not appear to have affected the ability of the hardcore of fighters left behind to create and use integrated minefield defences to break the momentum of attacking troops to face the conventional troops intelligently.

LTTE appears to have pulled out essential cadres from its defences in a planned manner. If intelligence reports quoted in the media are correct, a group of 200 cadres led by Ramesh had sneaked out of Batticaloa area in the second week of June and travelled north across Welikanda, Serunuwara, Mutur and Manirasankulam in Kinniya using jungle tracks. This was probably the route adopted for thinning out. However, there are likely to be small groups left behind to carry out low level operations in the east.

Unfortunately, the capture of Thoppigala is not going to be the end game of LTTE in the east. Guerrilla operations are likely to be stepped up till they become expensive for LTTE to carry on the fight in the east. The LTTE's guerrilla operations likely to continue would include hit and run raids on government assets, Claymore attacks to disrupt free movement of troops particularly on road axes, and settling scores with Tamils including Karuna and company, who oppose LTTE. Any new development projects that could come up in Tamil areas could also be targeted. Thus in the coming months, the Tamil areas of east can expect a period of low level operations to continue. Encounters with escaping LTTE cadres like the one recently faced by the naval marines in Kuchaveli area, north of Trincomalee, are also likely.

However, LTTE actions in the east will be muted and restrained by the loss of control over resources and territory, if not the shortage of manpower. Thus to compensate such limitations in the east, LTTE could attempt some spectacular actions against more visible targets in Colombo. At the same time, the completion of security forces operations in the east, or at least restricting it to minimum levels, would probably release at least two brigades of troops for operations in the north. This can come in handy as and when operations in the north are joined in.

Operations in the north

In the north, the LTTE would be literally fighting with their back to the wall to defend the heartland of LTTE territory. If the defence of Thoppigagala is any indication of LTTE's fighting capabilities, the war in the north could drag on for at least two years, as assessed by both the Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka and the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. LTTE has probably stashed away adequate reserves of arms and ammunition over the years to fight out the mother of all operations as and when it comes. But their limitations will be exposed as the operation drags on. Thus time is going to be an essential but invisible resource for both sides.

Considering this the security forces planning operations in the north will have to rework the strategies. And they appear to be doing so. These would include preponderance of fire power, destruction of reserves and dumps, naval blockade to prevent seaborne supply routes of LTTE and intelligent use of Special Forces behind the lines.

The number of small encounters along the forward defended localities in Muhamalai, areas west and east of Vavuniya, and along the Omanthai-Mannar axis show the two sides jockeying for domination. For the time being, security forces that were bent upon pushing LTTE back along the Omanthai-Mannar axis appear to be recasting their plans in face of the strong resistance.

Use of Special Forces for operations to destabilise the LTTE behind the forward lines appear to have been resorted to with some effect. Similarly, LTTE appear to be using small armed groups infiltrated to cut down and curtail free movement of troops and carry out selective killings behind the forward lines in Jaffna. Both sides are also using heavy mortars and artillery bombardments to keep the heads down in the defences. These are usually preliminary preparations for war that could seamlessly be joined in. So the 'cleansing of the east' as the security forces call it increases the chances of eruption of war in the north.

In this context, the seizure of two trucks last month lined with over one ton of explosives wired and ready behind their panels showed the high level of sophistication LTTE has achieved in carrying out terror attacks. The police seizure of the car of a Kilinochchi government official in Colombo transporting explosives hidden in the petrol tank also shows LTTE's ingenuity and detailed planning in furthering its terror operations. Fortunately, these operations were neutralised with the seizure of the vehicles. But they have shown the LTTE's potential to conduct such operations remains undiminished. They are likely to carry out such attacks as and when the battlefield stresses get too much. This is going to put further pressure on the police to tighten security measures, particularly in carrying out search operations in cheap lodges and hotels in Colombo much to the discomfort of travelling public.

According to defence columnist Iqbal Athas, the two explosives laden truck operations were controlled and directed from Canada and the UK respectively as revealed in interrogations. This would indicate the LTTE's capability to control terrorist operations from the sanitized settings in Canada and the UK. This could be the red rag for the civil society in these countries to further tighten the screws on Tamil militants based in their soil.

The Sri Lanka Navy's success against a fleet of Sea Tiger boats in an encounter off Point Pedro in the north-eastern tip of Jaffna peninsula on June 19, 2007 has confirmed that the Sea Tigers continue to have major problems in reasserting themselves in the seas off the coastline from Point Pedro to Alampil in the south. This will have a major bearing when large scale land operations in Mullaitivu and Thenmarachi come through. The large high-powered LTTE boat seized in the action was well armed and equipped with radar to take on air craft as well as naval targets. It underlined the naval capacity built by the Sea Tigers over the years in improving the weaponry, equipment and performance of boats.

The action off Point Pedro indicated Navy's ability to launch a well coordinated operation involving more than one command. At the same time, it is useful to remember that the Navy's success came barely a month after LTTE's successful sneak raid on naval posts in Delft Island in May. That would indicate that things are not so water tight on the Mannar coast. And that can make a big difference, unless India fully cooperates to keep its coast sanitized. In all probability, despite the exchange of political rhetoric, India has already taken action to do so.

So the blue print for a full scale war appears to be nearing completion. President Mahinda Rajapaksa also appears to have given the green signal for it when he said, "To bring about permanent peace to this country the government is dedicated to chase out the terrorists from the Northern Province soon, like they were chased out from the Eastern Province," while speaking at a function at Thambalagamam two days back. But a mixture of conventional and insurgency warfare is an explosive one and things do not go according to the blue print. So chasing out the terrorists from north could become a messy process as past history has shown, because the LTTE has nowhere to go.

The situation makes utter mockery of the Co-chairs' reported effort to resurrect the peace process after their closed door meeting at Oslo on June 25, 2007. The absence of any statement at the end of the meeting would indicate that it was not only peace process that was discussed. The hardening stand against local LTTE operators in the UK and Australia during the last couple of weeks would indicate they might have discussed tightening the thumbscrews on LTTE's local network in their countries. Or have they given a lead time to the government to come down heavily upon LTTE to 'soften up' its journey to the peace process? Only time will tell.

The tragic reality is that chances of peace are sinking in the horizon as weapons are cocked and bombs are primed. One cannot help feeling sorry for the ordinary people of Sri Lanka, particularly in the north and east and in Colombo, who are bearing the burden of war they are financing, at the cost of their lives. More than devolution of powers, human rights violations, abductions, colonization and all other issues the most urgent issue now is the right of the citizen to live in peace -that is bringing back peace. And surprisingly the cause of peace appears to have very few takers because it has been going on for too long. For the decision makers of war, it's a distant thing fought by soldiers. And success in war is a heady thing that tends to blur the larger picture. This is what has happened in Sri Lanka.


Extradition of LTTE suspects: Talks at advanced stage

Talks between the Maldivian Foreign Ministry and the Sri Lankan government over the transfer of the four LTTE members convicted of smuggling guns through Maldivian waters are at an advanced stage.

Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in the Maldives Farooq confirmed on Thursday he had been in talks with the Foreign Ministry, while Foreign Minister Dr. Shaheed has indicated the government is unlikely to stand in the way of a transfer.

The four men were apprehended in May, after an Indian fishing boat they had previously hijacked, was steered into Maldivian waters. The Indian vessel was sunk by the Maldivian coastguard twenty four hours after one of the LTTE members had fired gunshots at a Maldivian fishing vessel which had approached the boat.

Investigations went on for six weeks, during which time the Foreign Minister says the four men confessed of being members of the LTTE. A snap trial took place in early July in which the suspects pleaded guilty to smuggling firearms into the Maldives.

The four men were sentenced to fifteen years on the same day. The Indian and Sri Lanka governments both had access to the suspects during detention, but the Maldivian government refused to extradite the men to Sri Lanka. Foreign Minister Dr. Shaheed explained there had been "public expectation the men be subjected to Maldivian law.”

But following a successful prosecution, Shaheed said the Foreign Ministry is considering the Sri Lankan government's request.


Leading LTTE extortionist nabbed at BIA

A leading LTTE extortionist who tried to flee the country from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayaka yesterday morning was arrested by the Terrorist Investigation Division.

The suspect, a resident of Jaffna, was arrested by a special TID team at the BIA on information. According to TID sources the suspect is responsible for collecting extortion money from numerous persons, especially local Tamils living abroad for a longtime. The suspect had contacted them over the phone and demanded extortion money, threatening to kill their relatives living in Sri Lanka.

Likewise he had collected millions of rupees by instructing people to deposit money in local bank accounts.

The suspect was produced in courts yesterday and detention orders were sought to conduct further investigations; while the TID is on the lookout for several other accomplices of the suspect.


Thoppigala: UNP accuses govt. of double-dealing

The main opposition UNP yesterday asked whether the government facilitated the withdrawal of 800 LTTE cadres who had been trapped in the Thoppigala area along with their leaders Ramesh and Jeyam as claimed by the military earlier.

UNP frontliner Lakshman Kiriella told journalists there was grave suspicion on what had happened to these entrapped Tigers and their arsenal including three multi-barrel mobile units. Mr.Kiriella said they did not see the security forces destroying the LTTE manpower at large in the embattled Thoppigala area.

“We have received information from reliable military sources that the government ensured a safe passage for these LTTE members to retreat to the north via Welikanda, Serunuwara, Mutur and Manirasakulam. We have reasonable ground to believe it because we did not see the LTTE manpower and heavy weapons being destroyed at large in the military operations,” he said.

But the military scoffed at the charge saying they did not wish to comment on political criticism. The LTTE when asked about the allegation said it did not wish to comment.

Mr. Kiriella said the UNP had the right to question on the matter as a party representing Parliament which is wholly responsible for public finances.

“Even the Executive President has no powers to use public finances without approval from the House,” he said.

In this context, the UNP demanded a ‘categorical reply’ from army spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe and Eastern Army Commander Parakrama Pannipitiya as to what happened to 800 LTTE cadres who were holed up in the Thoppigala jungle when army soldiers backed by the Air Force ringed it.

Mr. Kiriella said it would have been a real victory for the military if they were able to ring Thoppigala and smoke out the entrapped cadres.

“There is no possibility for the LTTE to withdraw without an ensured safe passage from the government because the military is occupying all other parts of the east while the navy is blocking sea movements of Tigers,” he said.

The UNP asked whether this was a part of the secret pact signed with the LTTE before the Presidential Election in 2005.

When contacted by the Daily Mirror, Brigadier Samarasinghe, said he would not comment on a political criticism.

“Whether people believe what politicians say or not is a different matter. The best thing is to contact Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella,” he said.

Media Centre for National Security Director General Lakshman Hulugalla also said Minister Rambukwella was the ideal person to clarify the matter.

However, Mr.Hulugalla said some elements envious of the government’s military victories had made this criticism.

“People know whether the government did a real war or not. These elements that have plunged into the bottom of political bankruptcy are envious of these military victories to make such statements,” he said.

Attempts to reach Mr. Rambukwella were of no avail because he was in Kandy attending some meetings with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Meanwhile, when asked by the Daily Mirror yesterday about UNP claims that LTTE eastern leaders Ramesh and Jeyam were given safe passage out of Thopigala, LTTE military wing spokesman Rasiah Illentheriyan simply said "no comment."

The rebel spokesman however claimed that Ramesh and Jeyam were still in the east. In comments published in the Daily Mirror yesterday Illentheriyan claimed the military could have moved into Thoppigala much earlier than it did as he claimed the rebels had withdrawn from the area after a change of strategy.

He also said Thoppigala was not strategically important to the LTTE as claimed by the government.


Military urges public to be vigilant

The military yesterday warned the public to be more vigilant as the LTTE might strike in populated areas such as the main cities and suburbs, following the loss it suffered in the east.

Military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe told the Daily Mirror the Tigers might desperately try to create instability in the country and he appreciated the public for being vigilant by alerting the security forces in recent times.

Brigadier Samarasinghe also said the Tigers tried to do the same after the loss of Vakarai, but their attempts failed as public vigilance and prompt action taken by the security forces.

The warning came a day after the LTTE threatened to cripple the country’s economy with major attacks on military and economic targets.


Karuna group playing cops

The Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullikal led by Karuna Amman is carrying out the role of policeman in Kalmunai in violation of local laws, residents said.

TMVP cadres have reportedly arrested a 29 year old man on Wednesday following a complaint lodged with the armed outfit which operates political offices in government controlled areas in the east.

The man, a father of two, taken into Karuna custody was identified as Hidayathullah of Natpiddimunai. According to reports a Tamil woman had initially lodged a complaint with the Kalmunai police alleging that a sister of Mr. Hidayathullah had borrowed money on interest and failed to return it.

The Kalmunai police intervened and advised Mr. Hidayathullah’s sister to return the money on installments. The complainant had also agreed to the settlement mode.

However with the intention of getting back the whole sum immediately the Tamil woman had lodged a complaint with the TMVP, reports from the area said.

TMVP cadres had subsequently arrested Mr. Hidayathullah and held him under detention until the money was returned.

Reports indicate people fear communal disharmony between Tamils and Muslims in Kalmunai if TMVP cadres continue to be involved in civil activities and carry out the role of policeman.


Armed group disrupting Ampara, says IASC

The situation in Ampara remains tense with an “armed group” reported to be interfering with humanitarian operations, the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) said in its latest situation report.

The IASC is an umbrella grouping of humanitarian agencies, including UN affiliated organizations, operating in the country.

However, the IASC report did not directly mention the name of the “armed group” said to be disrupting the humanitarian operations.

It also said the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNICEF assessed the situation at Bakmitiyawa and Pannalgama in the Damana Division and reported that many people in those areas were moving to other divisions and districts as their livelihood had been affected due to the worsening security situation in the area. UNICEF and ILO officials could not be contacted by the Daily Mirror to get more details on the issue.

Last week the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) said in its weekly report that ground monitors had received complaints from civilians regarding harassment and extortion by suspected TMVP members also known as the Karuna faction both in Ampara and Batticaloa.

Military spokesman Prasad Samarasingha was quoted at the cabinet news briefing this week as saying that the Karuna faction would only be permitted to operate political camps and not military camps in the east.

Meanwhile the IASC report also said with the exception of World Vision other International Non Governmental Organisations (INGOs) did not have access to all three resettled divisions in the southern part of Western Batticaloa and added this was of concern for the humanitarian actors in the district.

Last month UN humanitarian chief John Holmes expressed concerns over the plight of the displaced civilians in Sri Lanka saying “civilians have been assassinated and abducted "by those bearing arms in places as far apart as Sri Lanka and Colombia.”

He also proposed a more systematic assessment of the reasons for the killing of humanitarian workers and for denying or restricting access to help civilians in need. This, for example, has left over 600,000 inhabitants of the Jaffna peninsula in Sri Lanka with shortages of basic necessities since August 2006, he said.


Govt. does not want peace: LTTE

The LTTE yesterday claimed the government was sending a clear message to the Norwegians that it was not interested in peace talks, by attacking a civilian settlement in LTTE controlled Alampil hours after the Norwegian ambassador had talks with the LTTE in Kilinochchi.

LTTE military spokesman Rasiah Illentheriyan told the Daily Mirror the LTTE was warning the military against attempting to infiltrate LTTE controlled areas in the North. He played down the loss of Thoppigala saying it was not a strategically important location as claimed by the government.

Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar, on Wednesday, heldtalks with an LTTE delegation headed by political head S.P. Thamilselvan in Kilinochchi. They discussed the current political situation in the country as well as the chances of future peace talks.

Hours after the Kilinochchi discussion Air Force fighter planes bombed A'lampil on what the government media center claimed was a sea tiger base but the LTTE insisted it was a fishing settlement. It said at least 2 civilians were killed and 11 injured.

“This was a clear message to Mr. Brattskar from the government that it was not ready for peace talks,” Mr. Illentheriyan told The Daily Mirror adding that the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) was yesterday visiting the site to carry out inquiries.

The Norwegian Ambassador was yesterday scheduled to debrief the chief government negotiator Minister Nimal Siripala deSilva on the visit to Killinochchi and the meeting with the LTTE which was also a farewell call for the Ambassador who ends his term in Sri Lanka this month.

Meanwhile Mr. Illentheriyan also claimed that the military could have easily moved into Thoppigala several days earlier than it eventually did as according to him the LTTE had “changed its tactics” in the east. He warned however the military can now “wait and see” how the LTTE responds to the eastern operation.

“The government boasting about Baron’s cap (Thoppigala) but it could have easily moved in there days earlier because we did not operate any big camps there for sometime. But we are still active there. It is not a strategically important place for us. We had changed our tactics in the east but the government military can wait and see how we respond,” Mr. Illentheriyan said.

He also charged that by focusing heavily on the victory achieved in Thoppigala the government was diverting the attention from Sampur in Trincomalee, another former LTTE stronghold liberated by the military, where he claims the rights of the Tamil community is being severely violated.

Asked if the government will be able to capture rebel areas in the North now that the east has been cleared Mr. Illentheriyan opined that such a move will not bear fruit as the terrain is different and recalled that several military attempts had already ended in failure.

“There are no open spaces in the North like in the East for the military to infiltrate and capture our areas. They tried a lot before and failed. We feel that the government operation in the east was political more than military because a right minded military leader would not have gone for the east,” the rebel spokesman said.

The government Defence Ministry website quoted President Mahinda Rajapakse as saying this week the government is dedicated to wipe out the LTTE practiced terrorism from the Northern Province with the completion of the Eastern operation.


LTTE threatens attacks on economic targets

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels aim to cripple the island's economy with major attacks on military and economic targets, a top rebel leader told Reuters today.

Tiger political wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan said peace was “not possible” with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, pouring cold water on international community hopes of halting a deadly new chapter in a two-decade civil war.

“Our targets would be in the future major military and economic structures of the government of Sri Lanka,” he said in an interview in the rebels' northern stronghold of Kilinochchi.

“They will be targets which help the government sustain its military operations and military rule,” he added.

“For instance (our) attack on the oil installations. That is one of the targets that will cripple the economy of Sri Lanka as well as the military capability of Sri Lanka, so such will be the tactic.”

Thamilselvan's comments came a day after the government declared it had driven the rebels from their last jungle stronghold in the east after months of fighting in which the military has had the upper hand.