Monday, July 16, 2007

Sri Lankan troops battle rebels

SRI Lankan fighter jets bombed Tamil Tiger areas in the island's northwest as troops battled with insurgents today, with both sides claiming to have inflicted heavy casualties on the other.

The military said 10 soldiers were killed and 34 wounded after troops confronted Tamil Tigers in response to incoming artillery and mortar fire, and jets bombed a rebel camp in the northwestern district of Mannar.

The Tigers said about 600 army troops had infiltrated their defence lines in a two-pronged offensive and the sides clashed in a lengthy confrontation.

They said they had killed at least 16 soldiers, and three of their own fighters were killed. Bombs dropped by the jets had fallen near the battlefield. However there was no independent confirmation of what had happened or how many people were killed.

Sri Lanka has been gripped by renewed civil war since the collapse last year of a ceasefire agreed in 2002. An estimated 4500 people have been killed since then, taking the death toll from 24 years of civil war to nearly 70,000.

The latest fighting 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, and two days after the rebels vowed to cripple the island's economy with attacks on major military and economic targets.

“We bombed the LTTE camp in Mannar and it was very successful, a lot of casualties,” air force spokesman Group Captain Ajantha De Silva said.

The military said 10 soldiers were killed and 34 were wounded during the fighting inside Tiger territory.

“Sri Lankan troops infiltrated into our area. There was a heavy exchange of shelling, and then an hours-long pitched battle,” Tiger military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan said in the northern rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi.

“Their advance was totally thwarted. The Sri Lankan Government troops fell back to their original positions with heavy casualties ... We have four bodies in good enough condition to hand over to the Red Cross. A few more bodies in bad shape had to be cremated on the spot.”

Both sides also continue to exchange heavy fire daily in the northern Jaffna peninsula.

The rebels, fighting for an independent homeland in the north and east of the island, said this week their aim was to cripple Sri Lanka's $US23-billion ($26.6 billion) economy.

Tiger political wing leader SP Thamilselvan said 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 swaths of territory from the Tigers in the east in recent months and fighting is now focused on the north, but analysts see no winner on the horizon.


The Jaded Glory of Thoppigala

Thoppigala has now been successfully captured and the entire east is now, according to the Government of Sri Lanka, under their control. Albeit the apparent lack of government control in Colombo, where abductions & murders are the order of the day, this is a significant accomplishment if not for anything else, but because the government says so.

The purpose of this post is not so much to discuss issues regarding the operation itself. Rather, its purpose is to examine the aftermath of the "victory," and the elaborate celebrations that are underway to serve the personal interests of certain individuals.

Primary celebrations are to take place at Independence Square, where the President is arrive ceremoniously, escorted by the fleet of BMW motorbikes as well as the mounted guards. This is to be followed by a military parade, 21 gun-salute, a fly-over by the air force, and a handing over of a sannasa by the Commander of the Army, to the President -- declaring the East is now in fact, under government control.

Parallel to this celebration, a number of parallel celebrations are also to be held in government schools and departments island wide. Principals, and other leaders are instructed to talk about the importance of this accomplishment of capturing the east.

In the backdrop all these celebrations, a few questions that I think are worth pondering, do come to mind.

First, the "national event" that is being planned is almost like Independence Day celebrations, including the pivotal venue, and the ceremonial activities. Does this imply that the Republic was liberated from an occupying foreign force? While the LTTE are obvious terrorists, and obviously maintained a presence in the East, comparing them to an occupying foreign force (such as the Brits, one might add) might just end up being a compliment to the LTTE.

Second, everybody keeps saying that the capture of the East is "important." However, apart from the obvious face-value of it, no one has so far pointed out the strategic importance of the East. Hence, what is the real, strategic importance of permanently occupying the East? No large stockpiles of weapons have been captured, and no significant casualties inflicted on the LTTE. If they have, it would've surely been broadcast all over.

Third, since the East is now completely under government control, will the government accept responsibility for any killings and/or recruitment of child soldiers? Will camps of the Karuna faction, with whom the government claims they have no connections, be shut down?

Finally, who are the real heroes of this battle? Although the authorities have been rather slow in releasing casualty figures, I am sure there were soldiers who either died or got injured in the battlefield. Why is the government wasting all this money in these elaborate celebrations without recognizing the true heroes? Wouldn't it have been a more sincere, more patriotic and a more appreciative act to recognize those men & women who fought? If not any other, just sharing the money spent on these event among those veterans would perhaps have given them a significant bonus.

Instead, what we have is a pompous pageantry symbolic of a monarch, carried out in a sorry bid to boost the popularity of the very man who has been accused of providing money to the LTTE.


Thoppigala: A victory but bitter battles ahead

Important and disturbing realities behind the euphoria and Independence-like ceremony on Thursday

Compared to some of their Asian counterparts, there is a distinct difference between those in the Sri Lankan Security Forces and the Police, including the Special Task Force (STF).

Whatever Government is in power, whatever task is handed down to them, they execute it with deep commitment and dedication. This is both during war and peace. No questions are asked, not even from their own superiors. This is exactly what they did in the battlefields of Batticaloa west.

In the bloody battles during 58 days - April 8 to July 11 - (Phase II of military operations west of the A-5 Maha Oya-Chenkaladi highway), some officers and men paid the supreme sacrifice. Some of the injured will be left out of battle forever. Some others wait till their wounds are healed to return to battle. That is how they re-captured Toppigala (Baron's Cap). During previous military operations at Sampur and Vakarai, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) breathed fire.

They warned of bloodshed that would follow if troops went ahead. But this time, there was muted silence. The final casualty count will be known only in the days to come. The brave ones who have dodged bullets, the dead and the injured will all be remembered as heroes during glittering political ceremonies. Praises will be showered all round. If one is to go by past experience, they will be forgotten thereafter until the next military success arrives. That is almost a culture in Sri Lanka's separatist war.

For the Government, the re-capture is of added significance in a number of respects. Taking flak on many issues including the hardships faced by people over the rising cost of living, allegations of human rights violations, mounting corruption, abductions, kidnappings, killings and a breakdown in law and order, it is a singular achievement in their 19 months in office. Hence, the event is to be celebrated with the grandeur equivalent only to Sri Lanka's annual Independence Day celebrations. The patriotic fervor being whipped up through a high pitched campaign is unmatched even by the freedom day events.

On Thursday, a nationally televised ceremony will take place at the Independence Square. Arrangements for this are being made by the Ministry of Public Administration. Invitations have been sent out to parliamentarians, politicians, diplomats, retired Armed Forces/Police officers, religious dignitaries and senior Government officials.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa will arrive at the venue with ceremonial escorts on Thursday morning, at an auspicious hour after 8.30 a.m. He will hoist the national flag and receive a 21 gun salute. Thereafter, school children will chant Jayamangala Gathas. The Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, will present him with a Sannas Patra (a parchment) declaring that troops have cleared the east of any Tiger guerrilla presence. President Rajapaksa will then address the nation. This will be carried live on television and radio. There will be a fly past by Air Force helicopters. The event will come to a close with a joint services parade of some 800 troops.

Similar ceremonies, also akin to the Independence Day celebrations, are planned for the districts. The District Secretaries are to be told to arrange them in consultation with parliamentarians, politicians, military installations, police, leading members of the clergy and schools in the district. In addition, schools are to be told to have their own ceremonies on Thursday. Principals have been told to address students on the significance of the event.

These ceremonies are reminiscent of the event in the Presidential Secretariat on December 5, 1995. Then Deputy Minister of Defence, Anuruddha Ratwatte, presented a Sannas Pattara (a parchment) to former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in which he declared that Yapa Patuna (Jaffna peninsula) was cleared of Tiger guerrillas. Though nationally televised, this ceremony was sans a military parade. Then, Mr. Ratwatte hoisted the victory flag in Jaffna. This time President Rajapaksa will hoist it at Independence Square. Promotions to the service chiefs is also on the cards.

Just nine months after the official ceremonies on the re-capture of the Jaffna peninsula, Tiger guerrillas infiltrated the area. On July 4, 1996, it was formally confirmed. This was when the present Minister of Health and Leader of the House, Nimal Siripala de Silva, narrowly escaped death at the hands of a female suicide bomber. But the Brigade Commander for Jaffna, Major General (posthumously promoted) Ananda Hamangoda and Deputy Inspector General of Police (posthumously promoted) Carlyle Dias were killed. Barely two weeks later, Tiger guerrillas mounted a conventional style attack on the Mullaitivu military complex. Nearly 1500 troops and civilian employees were killed and military hardware worth millions of rupees was lost.

The re-capture of Toppigala, at least for the moment, has seen the end to Tiger guerrilla dominance of tracts of land in the East. They are now present only in small pockets and keep moving from place to place. Therefore, threats of possible attacks still lurk. On Friday night a guerrilla, aircraft flying over Pulmoddai (north of Trincomalee) was spotted by a Navy patrol. It was later confirmed by ground forces in the area. It led to a high security alert in the districts of Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Security authorities later learnt the aircraft had landed in the Wanni. Fears of possible air or ground attacks in the Colombo City and suburbs also led to enhanced security measures.

There is no doubt the victory at Toppigala is significant. Though largely desolate stretches of scrub jungle, with rocky patches, it was good hiding ground. That is why the guerrillas used this almost inaccessible terrain to set up bases to re-train, re-arm and re-group to attack troops and police in the East. The surroundings offered them the protection they needed. These bases assumed greater significance after the fall of Mavil Aru, Sampur, Vakarai, Panichchankerni, Kathiraveli and neighbouring areas. Thus, Toppigala became an even more important staging area. That is now denied to the guerrillas.

The success at Toppigala is built on the sacrifices of the dedicated troops. Some of them engaged in the battles are not living to see this achievement. Now, it would be more important, even far more than the re-capture, to make sure the gains are retained. That, no doubt, would require a large military and even police presence. That is to avert two very disturbing situations from recurring -- prevent guerrilla infiltration and the consequent destabilization of the development process. Otherwise, the former would pave the way for small scale attacks. Like in the past, they could gradually lead to increased guerrilla activity resulting in bigger battles.

This has happened in the East twice in the past. In March 1990, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) withdrew from Sri Lanka. Three months later, Tiger guerrillas had taken full control of the province. The permission of the LTTE was required for Security Forces to move around in many areas. Military installations in Batticaloa and Ampara districts came under attack. The areas were re-captured following an operation launched by Major General the late Denzil Kobbekaduwa. One of the officers involved in this operation was then Lt. Col. Sarath Fonseka, who was Commanding Officer of the first battalion of the Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment.

But the later years saw the return of the guerrillas. Then military operations to clear the East once more, to facilitate the conduct of Parliamentary General Elections in 1994, got under way. They were executed by Major General the late Lakshman (Lucky) Algama backed by Major General Janaka Perera, then Commanding Officer of the Independent Brigade. The latter in fact led troops to Toppigala. No major confrontations took place since the guerrillas beat a hasty retreat. The year long operation that began in 1993 ended with the entirety of the East being cleared. In an interview with The Sunday Times, the late Maj. Gen. Algama noted, "the strategy of the IPKF (who later withdrew) was to saturate captured areas with their troops." He added, "The East was in turmoil. A civil war situation similar to the one in the North prevailed."

Till this re-capture, the guerrillas not only returned to the East but also strongly established themselves. This was possible since the bulk of the troops there were withdrawn and some camps were shut down. The reason - the Chandrika Kumaratunga Government wanted troops for Operation Jaya Sikurui (Victory Assured). The aim of this operation was to establish a contiguous land route from Omanthai to Kilinochchi, thus linking the Government controlled Jaffna peninsula. Almost three years after it was launched, the operation which is the costliest both in terms of human and material losses was abandoned.

During that 13 year period, the guerrillas posed a serious threat to the Trincomalee Port. They had established a string of camps south of this strategic location. The United States Pacific Command, which made a study, was to recommend that the guerrillas should be evicted if the threat to the port, the lifeline for troops in the Jaffna peninsula, is to be removed. It is from the Trincomalee Port that food and military supplies are regularly moved by sea to the North. The LTTE had bases in Batticaloa and Ampara districts too. Yet, the guerrillas did not dominate vast tracts of territory. They withdrew from areas when the Security Forces moved in and returned when they moved out.

That is why, the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002 did not provide for a Zone of Separation between the Armed Forces and the Tiger guerrillas in the Eastern Province. The CFA (Article 1.5) declared that "in areas where localities have not been clearly established, the status quo as regards the areas controlled by the GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) and the LTTE respectively, on 24 December 2001 shall continue to apply pending such demarcation as is provided for in Article 1.6."

Article 1.6 says "The parties shall provide information to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) regarding defence localities in all areas of contention……The monitoring mission shall assist the Parties in drawing up demarcation lines at the latest by D-day + 30."
However, determination of Zones of Separation in the East with the help of the SLMM did not materialize though the mission took many initiatives. Unlike in the North, areas controlled by the Government and the LTTE, in accordance with the CFA, as a result, remained undefined in the East. Some of the LTTE camps in the East were thus set up after the CFA and the guerrillas began to dominate more ground.

There is no denying that the troops had secured a substantial victory at Toppigala. Yet, during the offensive neither a larger number of guerrillas have been killed (contrary to highly exaggerated official claims) nor their military machine badly dented. During meetings of the National Security Council, high ranking Army officers claimed that in the run up to the re-capture, the guerrillas have been badly boxed in. They said they had no escape route and would thus fall prey to the troops. They feared a massacre was inevitable. Yet, the guerrillas made good their escape with most of their military hardware.

Thus, a large number of the guerrillas have been evicted from their strongholds with troops seizing territory they dominated. Hard on the heels of the artillery, mortar and gunfire, "a hearts and minds operation" would become imperative for the Government to win the confidence of the people. That is to pave the way for its Master Plan to develop the East. Such a move would naturally entail the participation of the Security Forces and the Police. With unsettled conditions, fear and lack of confidence in the Government by the populace, seeking civilian co-operation becomes a formidable challenge.

Behind the victory at Toppigala lay some important if not disturbing realities. The 58 day battle has seen the very extensive use by troops of artillery, mortar, multi barrel rockets, machine gun and small arms ammunition. Together with the bombs used by the Air Force Kfir and MiG-27 jets, the costs have been gigantic. Last week in particular saw the stepping up of this activity after queries were raised by Government leaders as to why the offensive was dragging on. It is common sense that the expended artillery, mortar, small arms, machine gun, MBRL ammunition as well as new requirements of military hardware that have now arisen are procured. This naturally means more money. Colossal amounts would be required. Of course, that would also mean fat commissions for some. The separatist war, since its inception, has spawned billionaires and millionaires. The only difference today is the fact that corruption has reached newer heights.

In the recent past, a Task Force One commanded by the newly promoted Brigadier Charlie Gallage was vested with the responsibility of conducting operations to re-capture Toppigala. It is made up of six battalions. With the approval of the Ministry of Defence, Army Headquarters wants to convert this new Task Force One as their 58 Division. Army Headquarters is also to commend Brig. Gallage for his role in executing the Toppigala operation successfully.

Engaged in the Toppigala military offensive were the 2nd battalion of the Commando Regiment, 7th battalion of the Gemunu Watch, 8th battalion of the Gemunu Watch and two more infantry battalions together with the 1st battalion of the Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment being placed on a reserve role. Two weeks ago, additional troops drawn from the North were moved in. Further batches to step up the offensive were dispatched a week ago in the light of queries raised by Government leaders.

A look in retrospect at the military offensives in the East reveals an important aspect. The chronology of events shows that the troops have been literally chasing the guerrillas from zone to zone. On July 21, last year, the guerrillas interrupted water supply to nearly 6,000 farmer families in land north of the Batticaloa district. This is by shutting down the sluice gates of the Mavilaru irrigation scheme. On July 26 commando teams moved in to soften targets. An Army offensive, under the leadership of then Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Nanda Mallawaratchchi, got under way to re-capture Mavilaru and surrounding areas. He ensured the areas were regained by August 8. Maj. Gen. Mallawaratchchi is now Sri Lanka's Ambassador in Indonesia.

In a retaliatory move, Tiger guerrillas attacked military installations in Kattaiparichchan, Mutur and neighbouring areas. Three days later, the Security Forces launched counter offensives to re-capture these areas held by the guerrillas for nearly three days. They also launched mortar attacks on the Eastern Naval Area Headquarters in the Dockyard in Trincomalee on August 1. Thereafter, on August 12, they directed mortar attacks on the Sri Lanka Air Force base in China Bay.

In the wake of this, the Security Forces launched an offensive to re-capture Sampur and its environs on August 27. The operation was concluded on September 4. They followed up with an operation to flush guerrillas out of Manirasakulam and Kangai, where a Sea Tiger base was located. By then, they had moved in large numbers to Panichchankerni, Vakarai, Kathiraveli and adjoining areas. An operation to re-capture these areas was launched on October 30 and was concluded on January 21, this year.

In the Trincomalee district, troops launched operations to re-capture Kadawana (north of Trincomalee) from February 2 to 7. Thereafter, they set up a camp there. The operations were continued from February 21 to February 25 to re-capture Kumburupiddy. Both Kadawana and Kumburupiddy were considered as locations where the guerrillas established guard points to secure land access to the East from the North and vice versa. The first phase of the operations in Batticaloa district east of the A-5 Maha Oya-Chenkaladi Road began on February 24 and ended on April 7.

The second phase (west of the A-5 highway) which ended with the re-capture of Toppigala began on April 14 and ended on July 11. During this period, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) carried out attacks on guerrilla groups behind their own lines. An earlier push for Toppigala on June 8 met with stiff resistance.

The Government is whipping up mass scale euphoria countrywide over the success at Toppigala. The focus of the military, in this backdrop, shifts to the Northern Province. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has declared that offensives in the North would continue until the guerrillas are weakened. Yesterday, troops began a limited operation in the Mannar district. They moved forward from their defences towards Tampanai, east of Madhu. Heavy fighting broke out.

President Rajapaksa had earlier told Norway's peace facilitators during a meeting in Geneva that military offensives would be halted only if LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, declares he would cease violence and express a wish to talk peace. The LTTE response came again this week. The leader of the LTTE Political Wing, S.P. Tamilselvan, declared his group did not have confidence in President Rajapaksa to resume peace talks. He told Simon Gardner of Reuters news agency during an interview in Kilinochchi that the guerrillas would carry out attacks on military and economic targets.

Thus, both the Government and the LTTE have made their positions unequivocally clear. Despite the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002, the two sides will battle it out. Hence, the undeclared Eelam War IV shows very clear signs of heightening further. No more proof is required to confirm that bitter battles are on the way as the nation's economy continues to take a beating.

Freezer truck: Hot air and cold facts

A highly agitated Spokesman for the Navy, the hoary Commander D.K.P. Dassanayake, waxed eloquent at last Tuesday's briefing at the Media Centre for National Security. It was over some media reports that Karuna (Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan) associate Pillayan had tipped off the Navy to arrest a freezer truck laden with more than 1,000 kilogrammes of explosives in Trincomalee. He charged that "some elements with vested interests" were attempting to sideline the Navy's achievements. However, he did not identify who these elements were nor say what the "vested interests" were. Are they in the media or in another organization?

He claimed that the detection was made by the Navy. His quick response came in reply to a hurried query raised by a reporter. He challenged the media to prove him wrong. Whilst Commander Dissanayake made this rather unusual challenge, some Navy top brass tried to accuse The Sunday Times (at the highest levels of the defence establishment) over the same matter.

However, The Sunday Times did not say Pillayan was instrumental in tipping off the Navy. For that matter, nor was the group involved identified. Commander Dassanayake was right when he said at the news briefing that Pillayan was not involved. But what about the other claims including the open challenge he so boldly threw open to all the media?

Referring to this incident, last week's Situation Report said "A one time militant group now helping the Navy in Trincomalee was singularly responsible for the events that led to the detection of over 1,000 kilogrammes of explosives. It began on June 24, when cadres of this group rounded up 32 year old Kanakaratnam Jeevaratnam alias Jeevan alias Muththu and his Freezer truck JG 4915…….."

The Sunday Times is able to reveal today that the "arrest" of Jeevaratnam was carried out by Maarkkan (the leader) and Eelavaran of the Karuna group operating in Trincomalee. The duo subjected Jeevaratnam to "intense interrogation" during the five days they held him. It is only then that Jeevaratnam "broke down" and confessed to the presence of the explosives in the freezer truck.

In fact, the duo posed for a photograph with Jeevaratnam before he was handed over to the Navy. The Sunday Times has seen a copy of this photograph. That is not all. The two Karuna faction cadres were given a nominal cash reward for the intelligence information they provided and for handing over Jeevaratnam, their prize catch. The amount is known but is being withheld. They are still awaiting a further substantial payment as their "just" reward.

The question that begs answer now is whether the Navy top brass is irked because of recommendations they made to the Ministry of Defence on cash rewards for those reportedly responsible. Is the reward money in millions or lakhs of rupees is the question that is being asked. Insiders say that in the light of the recent media disclosures, the reward payment has been stalled. They say a probe into the entire episode may follow.


Sri Lankan Troops atop the Thoppigala Rock

Sri Lankan government soldiers look at a map as they sit atop the Thoppigala Rock, 14 July 2007.

Sri Lankan Commando's take Thoppigala fortress

Sri Lankan Commandos storm Thoppigala

Sri Lankan soldiers pose with national(left) and Commando Regiment(right) flags atop the Thoppigala Rock. The Sri Lankan government said it would seek foreign aid to rebuild a key province recently wrested from the Tamil Tiger rebels after months of fighting.(AFP)

LTTE regional leader, 4 senior cadres killed in DPU attack

A claymore explosion set off by the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol blew up a vehicle carrying LTTE cadres killing 5 and injuring 3. The incident took place inside LTTE controlled Mankulam area. An LTTE regional leader is said to be among the killed.

The vehicle was disguised as a medical services and transport unit to avoid army interception. MI had recently warned SLA of LTTE's use of Ambulances and relief/aid related vehicles to transport its cadres for military purposes, without detection.


Beirut camp overrun: SLA reach Thoppigala mountain

Sri Lanka Army's infantry formations spearheaded by the commando regiment, reached Thoppigala mountain and secured the area without much rebel resistance few hours ago. Majority of the LTTE cadres who previously occupied defensive positions in the area had fled in the face of multi pronged army advance backed by air support. Sri Lankan flag is now hoisted in the Thoppigala mountain top.

A large number of destroyed vehicles belonging to LTTE have been discovered by troops in the past few hours. These include five tractors loaded with food supplies, two double cabs, one lorry and five motorbikes.

LTTE's eastern province leaders including Jeyam and Nagesh are suspected to have fled to the jungles west of Thoppigala. It is believed that LTTE moved their heavy artillery guns including 3 120mm mortars and 2 6-barreled MBRLs to these jungles as well.

Operations to capture areas west of Thoppigala are still in progress.


Commandos ambush LTTE transport

Sri Lanka Army's commando units ambushed an LTTE transport killing at least 15 cadres yesterday. LTTE cadres were fleeing the besieged Thoppigala region using two tractors when they were ambushed.

Commando units have been spearheading the Thoppigala offensive which has been progressing slowly amidst stiff LTTE resistance. Army's infantry formations have virtually surrounded the Thoppigala region, blocking all major supply routes to remaining LTTE bases. However, the LTTE has been able to smuggle in essential supplies and ammunition to their major bases in Thravikulam which is supposed to be the hideout of LTTE leaders including Nagesh and Jeyam.


Major LTTE burial ground found in Sri Lanka's Thoppigala

Sri Lanka Army soldiers have found a major LTTE burial ground in Thoppigala, the Sri Lankan military reports.

“In the burial ground, which covered a vast area, tombs of hundreds of dead LTTE cadres can be seen. On the tombs were written the names of terrorists and the year in which they died in Tamil language. Also a monument in memory of the dead cadres has also been built,” a senior military official said.

He also said that a large number of newly built tombs were found, confirming that a large number of cadres had been killed in recent clashes.

After capturing the LTTE's stronghold of Thoppigala, troops are consolidating their positions while engaging in clearing and search operations in the area.


LRRP Soldier Killed in Paalamoddai, Sri Lanka

A Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol(LRRP) soldier from Sri Lankan Armed Forces (SLF) was killed in Paalamoddai, and many other LRRP soldiers injured as they all ventured into the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) territory to setup claymores against the LTTE forces on Sunday by the border guard unit of LTTE, civilians sources reported.

Same sources claimed that, a dead body of the soldier and many military hardware belonging to LRRP also captured by the LTTE border guard unit.

On 7th of July 2007, five persons, including Tamileelam Health Service personnel and civilians were killed in a Claymore mine attack by the LRRP.

A lorry belonging to Madhu Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society (MPCS) was attacked by a Claymore mine placed by the LRRP in July 2006 inside the LTTE held Panichchankulam in the Mannar district.


LRRP unit was responsible for many attacks within LTTE controlled area and killing of civilians and injuring many in the past.

President, Premier, Prabhakran and the People

Without going into flights of theoretical explanations or having to run through intricate analysis, the crisis or is it paralysis? that is facing the nation can be summarized in one sentence: Ranil Wickremesinghe is prepared to share power with Prabhakaran, an unelected and convicted criminal wanted by India and Interpol, and not with the elected President of the nation operating within the democratic norms.

Wickremesinghe is even prepared to hand over, without a contest, the illegal demands of Prabhakaran that violate the constitution and the foundations of the nation but he is not prepared to hand over three portfolios to the President who is legally and constitutionally entitled to administer them under her authority. He is willing to cohabit with the terrorists banned by his own safety net but not with his childhood playmate and a national leader who had won the approval of the people twice.

Clearly, the paralysis prevailing at the two centers of power the premiership and the presidency can be related directly to the ambitions of Wickremesinghe to undermine his rival Kumaratunga. If Wickremesinghe, with his capacity to initiate subterfuges that strike at the heart of the constitution, had reversed his stance wouldn't the nation would be in a happier position? Some may dismiss this as a simplification of a complex crisis.

But, mark you, ultimately politics go into history not through the abstract processes of theories or analyses (though these help to understand the underlying aspects) but through the actors playing the lead role and however circumscribed their powers may be critical initiatives of the leaders, taken at the right time in the right direction, can make all the difference in the events to follow. In short, the complexities of this new phase will disappear overnight if Wickremesinghe drops his rivalry and decides to accept the legal and the constitutional position defined by the Supreme Court. It is as simple as that.

Looking back, it can be seen from all his actions, since he cobbled up a coalition to ride into power (please note, he did not win an outright majority to legitimize his power as the clear cut will of the people expressed unequivocally in the presidential contest), that he has acted as if the presidency is an illegal institution which he can override as an irrelevancy not required for national unity or the peace process.

For instance, he signed a Ceasefire Agreement on February 22, 2002 with his partner, Prabhakaran, on February 22, 2003 without consulting the President. He has not kept her informed of the various developments of a process that is going to determine the shape of the nation in generations to come. As opposed to this, even the constitutionally powerless Queen of England is kept informed of major developments by the prime minister.

Wickremesinghe's rivalry has gone to the extent of even refusing an observer from the presidency to be present at the negotiations. In going down this track he seems to be obsessed with a lust to satisfy Prabhakaran and the international community (read: Norwegians who have been obedient Quislings of Prabhakaran).

As opposed to undermining the democratic and the legal processes he has bent over backwards, going from capital to capital, to legitimize the banned LTTE. In the instance known to Sri Lankans domiciled in Australia, G. L. Peiris, pleaded with foreign Minister Alexander Downer on his last visit to Canberra to lift the ban on the LTTE. Without mincing his words, Downer told Peiris that he should keep his hands off Australian politics and also that he will not lift the ban until the LTTE renounces violence and return to democratic process.

The strategy pursued so far by Wickremesinghe is not only to marginalize the presidency but also to undermine her foreign and domestic policy that weakened Prabhakaran. His deliberate objective has been to derogate the Presidency and commensurately strengthen Prabhakaran. Consider his move to disband the LRRP the deep penetration unit that was most effective military machine capable of hitting the LTTE targets.

According to P.K. Balachandran, the correspondent of the Hindustan Times: The unit had, in fact, been wound up under the Ceasefire Agreement the Wickremesinghe Government had entered into with the LTTE in February 2002, on the insistence of the LTTE. (December 1, 2003).

The operative words are: on the insistence of the LTTE. In other words, these words paint him as an obedient servant of Prabhakaran while trying to lord it over the President. His behaviour would not have been of any concern if it did not threaten the overall national interests. His desire to fulfill the wishes of Prabhakaran and, in the process, demote the President elected by the people wouldn't have mattered one whit if the future of the nation and the security of the people were not in jeopardy.

The nation could have enjoyed the bun fight between the two. But the stakes are higher that two of them put together. A common saying in Africa describes the current crisis aptly: when elephants fight it is the ants that get crushed.

What is equally damaging is that in signing the Ceasefire Agreement and in implementing covertly the unwritten agreements with Prabhakaran, Wickremesinghe has rushed to the rescue of Prabhakaran.

At no time in his career has Prabhakaran gained so much power as under the patronage of Wickremesinghe. The myth of the invincible Prabhakaran had nowhere to go but up and up with Wickremesinghe pulling up his Navy Commander for sinking one of the LTTE ships bringing in the deadly cargo. This must be the first time in the history of any nation that a prime minister pulled up his Navy Commander for defending the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of a nation.

Each time the Sinhala leadership rescues Prabhakaran his reputation as the Clint Eastwood of Jaffna goes up a notch higher. For instance, Prabhakaran claims that he defeated the Indian army the fourth largest in the world. The reality, however, is that Prabhakaran was saved by President Premadasa who not only gave him arms but used maximum diplomatic pressure to get the Indians out in time for Prabhakaran to save his skin.

If not for these two-pronged attack on India by Sri Lanka there is no doubt that Prabhakaran, who was in a very weak position at the time (without even ammunition), would have been forced to surrender or swallow his cyanide pill. Adele Balasingham documents how her husband, negotiating with A. C. S. Hameed, pleaded with him to obtain arms and ammunition from President Premadasa. Without the ammunition and the diplomatic pressure mounted by President Premadasa where would Prabhakaran be today?

Take the case of President Kumaratunga. Without meaning to paint her as a political saint, credit must be given to her for launching an international campaign, with the able assistance of the best Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Laskhman Kadirgarma, to ban the LTTE.

Instead of cashing in on those overwhelming pressures that virtually crippled Prabhakaran the UNF frittered it away by legitimizing the inhuman killing machine of the LTTE. Under her regime she fine tuned the deep penetration unit. Its undercover operations confused the LTTE who were suspecting that those hit-and-run manoeuvres were the work of disaffected Tamils. As it gained experience the deep penetration unit was hitting at the heart of the LTTE leadership. It was getting too close to Prabhakaran and his leadership. It was the deadliest weapon against the LTTE ever.

What does Wickremesinghe do? He takes control of it and rescues Prabhakaran by exposing it and then dismantling it. According to Balachandran of Hindustan Times the result is: At least 50 Tamil army informants were hunted down and killed by the LTTE.

Then, as now, it was not Prabhakaran s greatness that won him the day but the weaknesses and lack of foresight of the Sinhala leadership. Wickremesinghe has once again proved that it is the Sinhala leadership that rescued Prabhakaran from his predicaments and made him what he is today. Today Prabhakaran is at the peak of his power and he has to thank only one man for it: Ranil Wickremesinghe.

No other Sinhala leader has gone out on a limb to arm and make the latest Pol Pot of Asia (New York Times) a formidable force like Wickremesinghe.

But his misguided generosity in arming the Prabhakaran has backfired. He was hoping to appease Prabhakaran. Instead Prabhakaran has come down on him like a ton of bricks packed inside his counter-proposals for the Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA). The excessive demands in the ISGA stunned both the international community and the UNF.

Writing to the SUNDAY TIMES, (November 9, 2003) Iqbal Athas, the best informed defence correspondent, pin-pointed the plight of the nation by asking: Could the LTTE have placed those demands before the government on or before February 22, 2002? In making the demands after this date, twenty long months after the ceasefire, are they not doing so from a position of greater strength? How did they acquire this strength to achieve an unassailable bargaining stance?

The answers given by Iqbal Athas will haunt Ranil Wickremesinghe throughout his life and the nation for generations to come. The following three paragraphs will reveal how Ranil Wickremesinghe weakened the security forces to tilt the balance of power in favour of Prabhakaran:

He (Prabhakaran) doubled the military strength of the LTTE. He recruited even child cadres. He smuggled in more state of the art military equipment. He extended the sphere of his military influence even to controlled areas in the North-East. This was through the Police Offices he was allowed to open under the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA). The military balance in the east changed completely.

The UNF leadership which was all out to please the LTTE and not hurt them neglected the armed forces and the police. They became weaker through the same CFA. For example, the number of security installations in the North was halved since they were required to quit from public buildings. They were not re-equipped and even the basic needs like ammunition were not made available.

The guerilla build up began with the ceasefire. They extended to the east their dominance in the Wanni by opening new Police Station, Courts and introducing a new administrative infrastructure, tax collection machinery among other matters.

Does all this reflect the greatness of Prabhakaran or the weakness of Wickremesinghe? February 22, 2002, the day Ceasefire Agreement was signed, marks the rise of Prabhakaran and the decline of Wickremesinghe. Even before he scraped through at the elections Wickremesinghe had made up his mind not to bargain through the normal processes of conflict resolution recorded in other international peace processes.

The process initiated by him is unique in that negotiations with the LTTE turned out to be a one-way process. There was no reciprocal gain from giving. The more he gave the more they demanded which has been the classic pattern of Tamil demands from colonial times.

But why did Wickremesinghe adopt this policy of caving in? What mysterious factors were tying his hand behind his back?

The pre-election secret agreements with the LTTE that were cemented with him having a social breakfast in the Conrad International Hotel in Singapore on June 18, 2000, with Charles Gnanakone, who is in charge of the shipment of weapons which are smuggled into Sri Lanka for the use of LTTE terrorists against Sri Lankan Security Forces (Daily news quoted in the WEEKEND LIBERAL December 21-22, 2002) are yet to be told.

Is there a connection between Charles Gnanakone and Wickremesinghe turning a blind eye to the smuggling of arms? He may be excused (only may be!) for not insisting on laying down of arms as in the case of Ireland, for instance. But to allow the Tigers to bring in arms and weaken his own forces by decommissioning their arms was suicidal to him and to the nation. It was too late when realized his folly. Then he rushed to India to sign a defence agreement.

How this is going to play out is yet to be seen. The stark reality, however, is that Wickremesinghe has not a single bargaining chip in his hands. He has handed them over to Prabhakaran with the compliments of the Norwegians. Where does all this leave the peace process and the nation? He has managed to survive by silencing the guns temporarily. This is being interpreted as peace. But how is he going to ensure that this peace will last without giving into what his co-signatory to the Ceasefire Agreement demands?

He survives only because he has put the nation to sleep by chanting his mantras of peace, safety net, aid, the Indian goni billas waiting to pounce on Prabhakaran. Those who do not believe in the popular mantra of peace chanted by the UNF and its allies have a right to ask: can he win peace by fortifying the war machine of those gearing up to attack the fundamentals and the future of the nation? Rohan Gunaratne gave a down-to-earth answer to this when he was asked: What about this international safety net that is being talked about?

International guarantees are important to reinforce the Sri Lankan peace process. However, in the event of hostilities it is the Sri Lankan troops themselves that will do the fighting and not foreign forces.

Therefore the government of Sri Lanka should entertain no illusions, but train the security forces to take on the LTTE should hostilities resume. (Bandula Jayasekera The Island, December 1, 2003)

The UNF strategy is on the assumption that the LTTE will not go to war. But Prabhakaran is on record saying that they will have to go to war if their rights are not given.

He has never resiled from that hard line position and to confirm it he has repeated it in his 50th birthday speech. What more guarantees of a war does anyone need? They say they will not provoke a war.

But past experiences and the present rearming point to a future that they do not need much of an excuse to unilaterally withdraw and declare war.

So readers enjoy the peace as long as it lasts. But don t bet on it because peace is short, as proved by Prabhakaran from time to time, and his wars are always long.


DPU soldier killed along LTTE Defence Line

A soldier belonging to Sri Lanka Army's (SLA's) Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) was killed Sunday noon at Paalamoaddai, and unknown number of soliders injured during a clash along Liberation Tigers Forward Defence Line (FDL) in Vavuniyaa-Mannaar border, LTTE field officials told media. The DPU team withdrew, leaving behind soldier's body and a T56-2 rifle.

The clash occurred when the DPU team was attempted to infiltrate into Liberation Tigers' territory and was confronted by the border unit of the LTTE. Number of injured DPU members are not known.

Five persons, inclduing Tamileelam Health Service personnel and civilians were killed in a Claymore mine attack by a Deep Penetration Unit (DPU) of the Sri Lanka Army inside Vanni near Mangku'lam on the 7th of July.

SLA's DPU has been targetting Civil Health Service vehicles insdie LTTE controlled areas, in violation of rules of war after start of shadow war waged by Colombo and the SLA-backed paramilitaries.