Saturday, July 21, 2007

Thoppigala: A lesson from Second World War

Jubilant Sri Lankan soldiers hoisting the national flag and their regiment flag after the Toppigala victory last week.

American soldiers celebrating their victory at Iwo Jima during World War II by hoisting the US flag

Looking at the flag-raising pictures of Toppigala, I was reminded of similar photographs of another 'Toppigala', that appear in a book by James Bradley, whose father had fought, raised the flag and survived in the battle for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima in the Second World War. Those photographs depict the flag-raising after the capture of this island by the Americans.

Incidentally, there is some idle talk that Toppigala is just a rocky outcrop in the middle of a jungle sparsely populated, implying that its capture was not worth the effort. Well, the other 'Toppigala' – Iwo Jima – was a 'trivial scab' of eight square miles whose 'population' at that time comprised entirely of Japanese soldiers, 'hidden in a sophisticated tunnel system'. But for this 'scab', 80,000 Americans fought against 12,000 Japanese.

Further for the Americans, this was a place thousands of miles away from their homeland, important only for strategic reasons. (It was handed back to Japan after the war). But Toppigala is part of our motherland, wrested by a group of marauding terrorists, now liberated by our brave soldiers. Let us all salute them.


East - the aftermath

Hard on the heels of the victory at Toppigala followed the national celebrations in Colombo last Thursday. Even if the victory by the Security Forces and the Police (mostly their Special Task Force) earned plaudits from the public, the highly publicized event at Independence Square, in marked contrast, was different. Despite a strong campaign to whip up euphoria, only some Sri Lankans showed interest in the event. They hoisted national flags in their homes, offices, shops and motor vehicles. The fact that most others did not, like during Independence Day celebrations, was clearly apparent. There was no countrywide national enthusiasm over the Government sponsored ceremonies.

It was being held to pay tribute to the men and women who laid down their lives, lost their limbs, were wounded and others who succeeded in re-capturing Toppigala. More importantly, as President Mahinda Rajapaksa, declared in his address to the nation, "the demonic forces of terror who for several decades had robbed the freedom of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people who lived in the fertile lands of the East of our motherland, have been completely driven away." In other words, the East, the Government declared earlier last week, was now free of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

With last Thursday's events over, Security Forces and Police top brass in the Western Province breathed a sigh of relief. Their great ease is understandable. There were intelligence warnings of at least six different guerrilla groups planning to wreak havoc. The idea, like other planned attacks on VIPs and vital targets, it was claimed, was to mar last Thursday's events.

The Army is placed in overall charge of security in the Western province. All other state security agencies are under their operational command. Army Headquarters have debarred senior officers from dealing with the media. Hence, one of them spoke on grounds of anonymity to The Sunday Times to explain their role in preventing any incidents last Thursday. His remarks not only underscored their difficult role but also the dangers that lay ahead.

He said, "There is a migrant population of nearly a million people entering or leaving the greater Colombo metropolitan area. There are 300,000 vehicles that enter or leave daily. A majority of them cross the Kelani bridge. Of this, the number of buses and coaches average between 10,000 and 15,000."

He said conducting thorough checks on all of them was humanly impossible. On the other hand, he said, several vital installations had to be protected in the light of the LTTE threat (after the re-capture of Toppigala) that economic and military targets would be attacked. This included security installations, the Colombo Port, the Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake, Oil installations at Kolonnawa, Muthurajawela, the Kelanitissa Power Station and the Railway. "You have to remember that we have to maintain the peak levels of alert. With limited resources and strength that is a gigantic task," he said.

The Army officer's remarks underscored two important ground realities - Heightened Tiger guerrilla threats in the City and suburbs were very much a likelihood. Though the East was cleared, precautions had to be taken round the clock to prevent any devastating attack. Secondly, the threats to targets in the City require the continuation of troops and police strength now deployed. The preventive measures they adopt, among others, checks on vehicles and persons will thus continue. These factors no doubt leave or even enhance the impression that Colombo is a capital under siege. That is not good news to the commerce and industrial sectors.

Added to that is the warnings already issued to star class hotels and operators of high rise buildings not to switch on their auxiliary power supply when there is a blackout. This is due to fear of air attacks by the guerrillas. In a note to their guests, one leading hotel has advised that when there are blackouts, they should shut any window that is open and draw the curtains. They have been advised to use candles placed in the toilet together with a box of matches. Needless to say, these precautionary measures will continue for some more time. It would be difficult to imagine how an investor wanting to plough in millions of dollars in a project in Sri Lanka would react to these security procedures. These are preliminaries they would have to go through before talking formalities with the local counterparts or Government officials.

Those are the threat perceptions that portend the City of Colombo and suburbs. What about the East, particularly in the aftermath of Government claims that Tiger guerrillas have been completely driven away? Interesting enough, an indication of how things could manifest emerged at the weekly meeting of service chiefs last Tuesday at the Joint Operations Headquarters (JOH). Intelligence officials pointed out that a group of some 50 Tiger guerrilla cadres had infiltrated the East and were poised to carry out attacks. Other intelligence reports had earlier spoken of some 200 cadres moving around in the East. Other sources, however, claimed the numbers were much higher. The revelation at the JOH meeting was about an infiltration after the July 11 re-capture of Toppigala.

The meeting is chaired by the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera. It is attended by the Commander of the Army, Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka, Commander of the Air Force, Air Marshal Roshan Goonetileke, Police Chief Victor Perera, Commandant of the Police Special Task Force (STF) DIG Nimal Lewke, Chief of Staff of the Army and head of Overall Operations Command (OOC) Major General Lawrence Fernando and senior intelligence officials. The Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, though required to attend, does not participate. Navy sources said this was due to personal reasons. He is represented by a senior Navy officer. The JOH is located in a building inside Army Headquarters.

The fact that a group of 50 guerrilla cadres had infiltrated the east, in an apparent bid to join some 200 which intelligence agencies know are present there, assumes some significance. It is in the light of claims that the guerrillas have been completely driven away from the East. Firstly, evidence that groups were still present in the East was confirmed last Monday.

Suspected Tiger guerrillas shot dead the Chief Secretary of the Eastern Provincial Council, Herath Abeyweera. The top most State official for the Eastern province had introduced a daily work norm that included the hoisting of the national flag and the playing of the national anthem on the public address system. The next day, guerrillas shot dead an Army captain and wounded two soldiers at Sittaru near Kantalai in the Trincomalee district.

The fact that groups are still operating, though not holding territory, poses threats not only to Government officials, but also military, Police top brass and VIPs. They could also be more than an irritant in sabotaging the ambitious development projects which the Government wants to launch. Furthermore, with plans to conduct both local and provincial elections, they can pose serious threats to the lives of candidates contesting them.

Naturally, minimizing these threats effectively would require not only a larger strength but also more resources. This becomes the dilemma for the defence establishment. With claims that the East has been rid of guerrilla presence, their focus is now turning to the North. It is no secret that troops are thinning out in some parts of the East paving the way for Police, including the Special Task Force to take over their roles. More strength and more resources would be required for the planned military operations in the North.

Unlike their strategy in the East of withdrawing to return later, the guerrillas have been strongly resisting any advance by troops in the Northern theatre. This position was underscored by guerrilla political wing leader, S.P. Tamilselvan in an interview with the Tamilnet web site on June 25. He said the LTTE adopts military strategies to suit the place, the environment and the time. He warned that the "Sinhala forces" would understand the trap they have set for themselves. It remains to be seen whether the remarks were mere rhetoric.

Though the Security Forces are yet to formally launch a major offensive in the North, a limited intrusion a week ago met with stiff resistance. Troops broke out of their defended localities near Irana Iluppaikulam to advance towards the village of Tampanai. These areas are located east of Mannar. Ahead of the move artillery and mortar barrages rained on guerrilla positions after midnight that day. By evening troops were back to their original positions. At least 14 soldiers were killed and 78 more were wounded. Army sources say a sizeable number of those wounded were P1 cases or those who would be left out of battle.

In the light of severe restrictions placed by Army Headquarters, correct casualty counts of troops are not made available to the media on most incidents. On Friday, guerrillas mounted attacks on three different small detachments of the Army near Mannar, overrunning one of them. The Army denied Tiger guerrilla claims that they had killed ten soldiers and said only four had died.

Ahead of plans to attack guerrilla positions in the North, a move which the Government has publicly declared, the Security Forces are in the process of assessing their new needs. Besides more equipment, replenishing stocks of artillery, mortar, heavy guns and small arms ammunition will require an enormous financial commitment. This is particularly after vast stocks have been expended in the East during the past months. This is besides the needs of the Air Force and the Navy. This poses a serious question for the Government. Even if immediate needs are obtained by marshalling meagre resources, the economic burden of running the expanding military machine on the long term becomes a critical issue. With a deteriorating economy, how would funds be raised is the all important question.

Even if there is forced recruitment in the North, with the LTTE demanding one member from every family, funds do not seem to be a major problem for them. Since March 26, this year, when they demonstrated their air strike capability, contributions from the Tamil diaspora has increased considerably.

A revealing article due for publication in the Jane's Intelligence Review next month notes that the LTTE generates an estimated US $ 200 to $ 300 million every year. It points out that after meeting their operational costs to run an administration (in the Wanni) amounting to US $ 8 million, the profit margin would become the envy of any multinational corporation.

Unlike the Jihadist movement, the LTTE, the JIR investigation reveals, is a centralized, hierarchical organization commanded and controlled by its founding leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. It says the LTTE ranks tend to fill the ranks of the two principal directorates that manage the interlocking arms of raising money and buying weapons. However, lower down the chain of command LTTE members tend to act as outsourced agents driven as much by profit as any ideological commitment to creating a Tamil state in Sri Lanka.

The JIR report has delved at length into the findings by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. During a series of detailed operations, FBI stings led to the arrest of Tiger guerrilla suspects and their associates in New York, Guam, Indonesia and Singapore.

The JIR report says that two overarching financial and procurement bodies are the Aiyanna Group, directed by Pottu Amman, and the Office of Overseas Purchases, directed by Kumaran Pathmanathan, alias KP, and source of the office's nickname, the KP Department. The Aiyanna Group (Aiyanna is a letter from the Tamil alphabet) functions as the Tamil Tigers' clandestine intelligence and operations body and is likely to be responsible for monitoring and ensuring the organisation's financial support and revenue streams. The Aiyanna Group's global management allegedly acts as overseer to Tamil communities in Western countries through myriad LTTE front organizations.

The Office of Overseas Purchases or KP Department is most probably the LTTE's procurement arm. Although Vaitiyalingam Sornalingam, alias Colonel Shankar, created the unit (the now deceased Canadian Tamil who also founded the LTTE's Air and Sea Tiger Wings), KP allegedly directs its activities at present. The second most wanted man in Sri Lanka, Pathmanathan, the JIR report notes, is a highly competent and elusive operative. The KP department has reportedly sourced arms in various countries and operates a fleet of deep-sea vessels, known as Sea Pigeons (Kadal Pura). Normally registered in Panama, Honduras or Liberia, the Sea Pigeons are primarily tasked with the delivery of procured weapons to LTTE bases in Sri Lanka and may also be in other LTTE enterprises, legal or otherwise.

Commenting on KP's role, a high ranking intelligence source in Colombo told The Sunday Times "KP is no longer active. He is sick. We know he is now in a Scandinavian country living under an assumed name. Castro, the LTTE's head of the International Wing, tried to take his place. Some of his operatives fell to FBI traps."

The JIR report reveals that the LTTE creates and staffs charitable fronts and projects its influence through these organizations and outsourced Tamil gangs to raise money from Tamil communities and, ultimately, convert the gains into arms. Noting that weapons from the Southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have been limited to items of low technology, JIR says that Cambodia is one of the most significant single sources of weapons to the LTTE outside Sri Lanka. Other sources of origin were the rest of Southeast Asia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine. Thailand is also described as another source.

The JIR report notes that LTTE's international network of non-governmental and charitable organizations work as an efficient way for it to move funds wherever investment or procurement opportunities arise. Proving that they can be profitable, these non-profit organizations afford an estimated US $ 2 million a month to the LTTE war chest. The charitable fronts also offer tax free status and legitimacy gained through working with larger, reputable, non-governmental organizations.

JIR says the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami allowed the LTTE to easily raise large sums of money and move them to LTTE-administered regions under the pretext of charitable disaster relief. Much of the money has been untraceable and the Sri Lankan government claims it has been diverted to the LTTE war machine.

In their conclusion, the lengthy JIR account says LTTE's strategic aim of defeating the Sri Lankan military and securing a political victory in the form of a separate Tamil state depends on the organisation's capacity to source money and arms abroad. Its strategic need to acquire high-tech weaponry, such as surface to air missiles, indicates its activities will continue. However, if the Western law enforcement crackdown on LTTE financial and procurement continues, the group's ability to fight may be weakened in the medium term, degrading its ability to withstand the Sri Lankan government's offensives and further undermining its combat capabilities.

Given the losses incurred by the LTTE since 2006 in the east of the country, JIR notes, this may lead to increased pressure to sue for peace, although given the tenacious history of the LTTE not even a severe denigration of its arsenal will encourage a political settlement with the current government.

In the past week or more Tiger guerrillas have withdrawn from positions in Batticaloa west. Military Intelligence sources told The Sunday Times groups had moved to the Trincomalee district.

They have headed towards Kandalkadu, Kadawana and to areas north of Trincomalee. Some groups have also moved into the Ampara district. These sources said sporadic attacks by these groups cannot be ruled out. A disturbing feature in this regard, according to these sources, was the shifting of the LTTE's main intelligence base from the Batticaloa district to the Amparai district. Intercepts of radio communications had shown that the new base was regularly making radio contact with guerrilla bases in the Wanni. Yesterday STF commandos killed six guerrillas including an area leader in Kanjikudichiaru in the Ampara district. This came during the concluding stages of Operation Nihatai Jaya (Assured Victory)

An unusual feature during the Government sponsored celebrations over the victory at Toppigala was a request asking the Army, Navy and the Air Force to address messages to senior school children. The message from the Navy praised both the Army and the Air Force for their role in operations in the East.

But the one from the Army to the students left out the role of the Navy altogether. Naturally, like observers who closely watch the defence and security establishments, discerning students would have wondered whether there was anything wrong. Many a question in this regard has been raised at the highest levels of the Government in the past. If in fact there were differences of opinion or displeasure at the higher levels of command, it is most reprehensible that attempts have been made to educate the senior students, the future generation, of such situations. The fact that there has been no firm Government control over such attempts to poison young minds makes the situation even worse.

This is what the Army message said, "…..the victory at Thoppigala is the greatest win the Army achieved in the past and it was done after master planning with the co-operation of the Commandos and other units whilst the Air Force support was great in aiming at Tiger targets…."

Without doubt, the Navy played a key role in preventing the guerrillas from escaping via sea. Guerrilla re-inforcements being rushed to the east were once intercepted in the seas off Pulmoddai. Gun battles ensued there. During briefings to his senior officers in the East, the Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, had asked them to extend full support to the Army in their operations there.

The concluding paragraph of the Army message to students says,: "Considering that the Indian Army, which is regarded as the fourth largest in the World had difficulties in tackling this area, the admission of defeat by Tiger cadres for the first time, is public proof of our Army's valour and courage." The message ends with a reported quote from a long retired one time IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) intelligence officer that "the Sri Lanka Army can go after any target, which goes to prove that the Tiger days are numbered under the present Army Commander (Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka), which statement we make with pride but with humility."

How the IPKF then found it difficult to reach Toppigala or where and when the Tiger cadres admitted defeat is not made clear. There is little doubt that the victory at Toppigala is significant and the Army played the most important role in it. But there is a long, long way to go if the Tiger guerrillas are to be defeated. In fact, Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, declared it would take at least three years more. Even if it is not for that long a period, sustaining a war effort with an enemy that largely retains its military capability is a challenging one but clearly not an impossible one for the Security Forces.

The words of the Chinese philosopher, Sun Tzu, in his treatise on the Art of War over 2,500 years ago still remain relevant. Although he used these words whilst dealing with spies, it seems appropriate in several other respects:

Raising a host of hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of state. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labour.

Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for victory that is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy's condition, simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honours and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.

One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory. What enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation.

Knowledge of the enemy's dispositions can only be obtained from other men…….


SCOPP urges co-chairs to condemn LTTE move

Government Peace Secretariat Chief Rajiva Wijesinha has written to Co-Chairs urging them to denounce the LTTE’s forcible recruitment of one member from each family in the Wanni.

Citing a recent report by Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar to back his claim, Prof Wijesinha has stated in his letter that it is imperative for the sake of the suffering people of the Wanni that the international community makes clear that it has zero tolerance for such practices.

“I hope very much that, while doing all in your power to ensure adherence to human rights norms throughout the country, you make clear that forced recruitment of anyone is intolerable, and that the co-chairs and all countries that are particularly concerned about such issues will stand foursquare against such practices,” he has noted in his letter.

In a related move, Prof. Wijesingh has written to Norwegian peace envoy Jon Hanssen Baur asking him to withdraw current SLMM spokesman Thorfinnur Omarsson for reportedly misinterpreting the positions of the Sri Lankan government and the SLMM.

“He has been consistently involved in misrepresentations of the position of the Sri Lankan government and the SLMM, in a manner which regrettably destroys confidence and may take away much of the good work that I believe you and your colleagues, both as facilitators and monitors are trying to do,” he said in his letter.


Six Tiger cadres killed

Signs of the LTTE’s continuing presence in the east emerged yesterday when six LTTE cadres, including an area leader identified as Ravindran, were killed in a clearing operation carried out by the STF in the Kanchikudichchiaru-Neriya Kanatte area in the Ampara district.

STF area leader Senior Superintendent Ajith Wickremasekera said the elite forces had killed the Tiger cadres while conducting the final stage of "Operation Niyathai Jaya". They recovered weapons and ammunition, including, five T56 assault rifles, 480 rounds of T 56 ammunition, eight hand grenades, four anti- personnel mines, one container of C4 explosives, ten metres wire and one 40mm round.

The SSP said the STF did not suffer causalities and more search operations were in progress. Meanwhile, two soldiers were injured in a claymore mine blast on the Vavuniya/Mannar road yesterday morning.


Hakeem hits out at President, Toppigala show

Hours after a parliament speech, hitting out at the government’s victory celebration at Independence Square on Thursday, Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem repeated his criticism at a business-peace forum. The celebrations to mark the capture of Toppigala was 'a spectacle’, Mr. Hakeem said addressing the 8th Business for Peace Forum organized by the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL).

“Our Tamil brothers feel very estranged, now even more than before,” he said. Mr. Hakeem said he voiced his criticisms in Parliament the same day, not to take away from the achievements of the security forces but to highlight that the celebrations had created the feeling that the nation had conquered an alien territory.

"That is the perceived message," he said, adding that Tamils felt bitter and upset and the government had added insult to injury.
Mr. Hakeem described President Mahinda Rajapaksa's speech on Thursday as compassionate but combative, filled with invectives and venom against the political opposition when a national function should be devoid of partisan politics.

"Our forces marched gallantly but we sent out a message that was negative to one section of the country," he said. He was also critical of the unveiling of the new Eastern flag at Independence Square. The flag was designed with an eagle representing Trincomalee, a lion Ampara and a fish Batticaloa. "Whom did they consult for the symbols?" he asked.

"We must also look at the political structure. Principles of good governance should be added to the constitution. The Constitutional Council is in limbo and the executive is merrily going about making appointments,” Hakeem said. He said the President had appointed a police commissioner, a judicial service commissioner and a public service commissioner without anyone questioning him on the legality of the appointments.

Mr. Hakeem said he recently had a discussion with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and told him that success for the development of the East lies in reforming the police. The forces must reflect the ethnic composition in the area for residents to live in an environment which is devoid of fear and retribution.

Mr. Hakeem said elections in the East were welcome but it was futile to speak of them until the climate of fear and insecurity was abated and total normalcy achieved.


Funding cloud over eastern sunrise

The government is likely to put on hold a donor forum on funding development projects in the east following a general reluctance particularly by European countries to provide new project aid, diplomatic sources said. Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera with whom some multilateral donors have had initial contact on the convening of a development forum, could not be reached for confirmation as his secretary said he preferred not to speak to the media because he was often misquoted.

Diplomatic sources said the government had been considering a donor meeting in September to discuss eastern development but the Rs. 1.8 billion plan was now on hold because many donors had expressed reluctance or reservations.

They said European Union countries, especially, were not in favour of getting involved in giving aid now as it might be interpreted as endorsing or condoning the continuing human rights violations and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. But officially the EU is taking up a different position.

An official of the European Commission’s Colombo office said they might consider government requests for aid connected to the new development plan for the east.

“We are unaware of any development forum being organised but we will consider any request for new funding,” said Guy Platoon, Charge d’Affaires of the Delegation of the European Commission in Colombo.

Asked whether EU countries were reluctant to fund new projects in the east, Mr. Platoon said; “I’m afraid I can’t speak for other donor countries. I can only give the EC position.”

Earlier in the week the Treasury’s Deputy Secretary, Sumith Abeysinghe said a blueprint for a proposed development forum for the east was being prepared and would be put on a fast track following the military victory in Toppigala. He said Dr. Jayasundera was supervising the development plan including infrastructure and resettlement.

Mr. Abeysinghe said he hoped that various projects would be undertaken by donor agencies such as Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the World Bank (WB).

The ADB’s Colombo office Deputy Director Laurence Pochard said the bank had regular ongoing programmes in the north-east and he did not think it would be giving any different budgets and programmes for the east.

World Bank Country Director Naoko Ishii said the bank had not been informed of a development forum for the east and decisions regarding future assistance to the entire country were being made under a new country assistance strategy (CAS) that would cover the next three to four years.

“As part of this programme, we are considering concrete programmes to provide additional support to conflict-affected areas,” she said in email comments sent to The Sunday Times.

She said the bank would continue to consult with a wide variety of stakeholders—including the poor and vulnerable in conflict-affected areas—to help ensure that its assistance was appropriately targeted and sufficiently sensitive to the many complexities surrounding the conflict.

According to initial estimates, some Rs. 1,800 million was needed for the projects on reconstruction of roads, irrigation schemes and electricity plants among others.


Toppigala a defeat for LTTE or “conquest of Tamils”

The euphoria associated with the capture of Toppilgala that was highlighted at Thursday’s nationwide celebrations was scarcely reflected on the floor of the House the following day when Parliament took up a day- long debate to praise the members of the security forces who had brought about this victory.

Quorum bells had to be rung three times during the course of the adjournment debate for want of the presence of 20 members to keep proceedings going which itself was a clear indication that politicians like to pay lip service to heroics of the military when its serves their political ends but coming to the Chamber and speaking a few words on their behalf means too much trouble for many of them.

JVP parliamentary group leader Wimal Weerawansa who moved the adjournment motion praised the troops for the sacrifices they had made to secure Toppigala and said the military achievements must be strengthened by establishing democratic institutions in the area as well as economically uplifting the people of the east. Government members coupled praise for the security forces with words of praise for President Mahinda Rajapaksa the Commander-in-Chief, for the leadership given to the military.

From the UNP MPs, there was praise for the military but they could not help going back in time and speaking of the past successes in the eastern province under a UNP political leadership. So while the government members chose to bask in the glory of a victory that was achieved with the blood and sweat scarified by the men in the military, the UNP members found it hard to be gracious and accept that even under a government and President that they dislike a great deal, something positive has been achieved. If the roles were reversed between the two sides, it is likely people would have heard exactly the opposite views from them.

No one was expecting the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs to jump on the bandwagon and say “hurrah” to the security forces. As expected they saw no reason for celebration over the capture of Toppigala. “There is nothing to celebrate .There is an on-going war and there are changes in the balance of power and it will keep happening,” Jaffna district MP N. Srikantha said. He also said it was regrettable that it is the cream of youth who are losing their lives to the war be they Sinhalese, Tamils or Muslims. Mr. Srikantha's argument that elections could not be held in the eastern province alone as it would be in violation of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was refuted by Education Minister Susil Premajayantha.

The Minister said that since the Supreme Court has ruled that the merger was illegal, the validity of the accord itself was in question. The main architect of the accord Rajiv Gandhi was killed by the LTTE and none of its provisions have been honoured by the Tigers, he said. The Minister also questioned why the TNA was opposing the holding of the local government elections in the east which would give the people there the chance to elect their own representatives after several years.

An urgent bill making provision for the calling for fresh nominations to nine local bodies in the east was passed by Parliament on Thursday. The TNA opposed the Bill while it won the support of all the other parties. Surprising Minister Rauff Hakeem chose the debate on the Bill to express his displeasure with the government ceremony held to mark the Toppigala victory calling it a “political exercise.”

Mr.Hakeem who had come to Parliament soon after attending the ceremony said he had been reluctantly compelled to attend as he did not want to be seen as opposed to the security forces, but said such measures would only alienate Tamils further from the government and make them feel like a “conquered people”.

The UNP also felt government celebrations were premature and meant only to bolster the image of the President. “The compensation paid to the family of a soldier who loses his life is only Rs150,000/- while millions are being wasted on such celebrations,” UNP Gampaha district MP Jayalath Jayewardene said.

So as the government prepares for an election in the east, the newly formed alliance between the UNP and the SLFP (M) faction is preparing to turn the heat on President Rajapaksa and his government. Memories of the military success will fade away and the government will still have to address some very serious issues such as the cost of living and corruption. It’s a decisive time ahead for both sides and given the strong rumours of shifting of loyalties by members on all sides, Parliamentarians are likely to play a pivotal role in deciding to which side the balance of power will shift in the weeks ahead.


Peace activists playing into government hands

Those keeping in touch with current events would be aware that despite the capture of Toppigala, there is little likelihood of any letup in the escalating cost of living, the death toll, or from that intangible but vitally important factor that accompanies war - fear. The LTTE's political wing leader S. P. Thamilselvan warned in an interview with Reuters, "The government has accelerated its military offensives; to put an end to it we have to target economic targets."

Though it is not publicly accepted by the government, engaging the LTTE in the East is going to be a huge dilemma. This was rhetorically, but pithily put by a former commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force Harry Goonatilleke: "You needed around 1000 or 2000 soldiers to win the battle. But holding these areas would be very costly, as you would need to some 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers..."

The government, though acknowledging the need to recruit 50,000 more military personnel, has not said from where they would come. Fifty thousand is no small number and let alone the additional cost to exchequer, estimated by Air Marshal Goonatilleke at Rs.7.2 billion in salaries alone, recruitment to the military is notoriously difficult in times of war.

While contending with the economic costs of the war, the government has to also weigh its options on countering the LTTE's tactics to restore the military balance in its favour. The Tigers of course have said they would return to the guerrilla mode of warfare in the East. The security forces, on the other hand, being a conventional military outfit, are not equipped to follow suit, except perhaps using the deep penetration units to strike selected targets within the Wanni.

So the Sri Lanka military has basically three options and all to do with territory: start operations to capture areas in the Tiger-held Wanni; defend the East from LTTE incursions; a combination of both.

This writer admits freely that he is not a military analyst. But there are certain matters that could be commented upon from a commonsensical point of view. The security forces have opened a front northwest of Vavuniya to break through the LTTE's flank. But the battles in Tampanai, Pompaimadhu and clashes on the Vavuniya-Mannar Road have proved bloody with the Tigers resisting any effort to pierce the present line of control. Therefore, the security forces know that if the army wants to capture new territory it would be fiercely contested.

Second, any conventional army advances using heavy armour as a shield. With northeast monsoon expected to set in by October, armour will find mobility a problem and any such operation to be carried out this year will have to be accomplished in the next month or two.

Operation Jayasikurui - the last occasion when government forces attempted a major thrust to wrest control of the Wanni - is a good example: it began in May, giving army at least six months before the terrain would render any sustained push forward difficult.

Therefore, once the rains set in, in October, till March at least, operations in the North will have to be confined to artillery duels and aerial bombardment on enemy positions, supply lines, and population centres, but not the capture of territory.

On the other hand, the monsoon does not hamper a guerrilla army. Its tactics do not depend on moving heavy armour. On the contrary, rain and inclement weather assist such forms of warfare that depends on surprise and stealth. In other words, the coming months will be favourable for the Tigers to attack strategic targets in the Northeast as well as economic targets elsewhere.

Under these circumstances, the politico-military conjuncture will become critical for the government. Politically, it faces immense challenges from the newly-formed National Congress, which is expected to mobilise the people on issues of human rights violations, erosion of democracy, corruption and the faltering economy.

Meanwhile the JVP is questioning the government's conduct of the war and the soaring cost of living. At the same time, the government's human rights record, disregard for the human cost of war and its inability to put forward a coherent set of political proposals for a solution has brought it international condemnation and isolation.

In the past few months, the government sought to tide over its problems by saying it was "regaining the East." It has now done so. With further operations to gain territory in the North rendered impossible due to reasons mentioned above, the government would have to face an increasingly hostile political opposition in the South with nothing to show but the army merely defending positions it took earlier in the North, East and elsewhere.

Seeing these problems ahead, President Mahinda Rajapaksa chose what he thought was a clever ploy, only to see it backfire. Taking heed of the Clausewitzian advice that "… the political view is the object, war is the means…", he sought to change the means by engaging the enemy with diplomacy instead of combat for achieving his political objectives.

This was the reason for the feelers sent by government around the time of the recent meeting of the co-chairs, to Norwegian Minister of International Development Erik Solheim that the government would be willing to facilitate a visit by Special Envoy Jon Hansen-Baur to Kilinochchi. The Norwegian mission in Colombo was to later deny any such visit had been planned.

The government hoped that by re-establishing contact with Kilinochchi it could guarantee immunity from attack by the Tigers in the coming months. Thamilselvan in his Reuter interview dismissed the sincerity of the moves saying, "After closing all avenues for the other party (the LTTE) to participate in meaningful negotiations, the government inviting (us) to attend talks is meaningless."

Therefore, the president's call for talks was not intended to be a genuine gesture for peace but hope that diplomacy could be used to suspend hostilities for the moment, only to begin afresh at a more opportune time. It was in alignment with Clausewitz: "it (war) can only be brought to standstill by either side by one single motive alone, which is, that he (the commander) awaits for a more favourable moment for action [On War, Bk. (I) Ch. (i)]."

In recent weeks the well-intentioned writers have berated President Rajapaksa for not calling for negotiations to halt the bloodshed. Little do they realise that by saying this they play into the government's hands and project the president's dearest wishes.


From Thoppigala to city walls

Despite what the international community was told, the Southern psychology was being prepared and seasoned for a long drawn out war, the main purpose being to keep the people away from looking at economics of living. With that the CFA though considered vlid purely on the technicality that neither party to the agreement has informed the Norwegians they are backing out of the CFA, it is in every way, “Eelam War IV” now. There seems to be no turning back, even after Brattskar’s visit to Killinochchi last week. With the heat that’s on with official ceremonies, victorious melodies and media frenzies, this government would have to show some thing more and bigger than Thoppigala to survive. And there is nothing as large as the North and the Wanni to talk of, to contain the economically battered South.

The walls in Colombo, if not in other cities and towns have gone too scarce for posters that keep coming out like patriotic Tsunamis. Some don’t even have any ownership and some organisations sound obviously too fake to believe. There were the obvious ones from the JVP and the JHU too. All, competing between each other to be the best “patriotic salute” for the war heroes who defeated Tigers and their “Eelam dream”. Yet it is more than doubtful how much of those sentiments are actually indicative of the public mood. Often and almost always, these poster maniacs take upon themselves the total right to represent the people. Worst of all, they thereafter expect the people to accept their voice as that of the society too. Just now, the voices on the walls want a total war. Into the Wanni and against the LTTE.

That was any way the direction we were heading since President Rajapaksa was installed in power in 2005 November. The Rajapaksa regime was adamantly sticking to its election promise of a “Unitary State” dominated by the Sinhala South. Therefore, despite what the international community was told, the Southern psychology was being prepared and seasoned for a long drawn out war, the main purpose being to keep the people away from looking at economics of living. With that the CFA though considered valid purely on the technicality that neither party to the agreement has informed the Norwegians they are backing out of the CFA, it is in every way, “Eelam War IV” now. There seems to be no turning back, even after Brattskar’s visit to Killinochchi last week. With the heat that’s on with official ceremonies, victorious melodies and media frenzies, this government would have to show some thing more and bigger than Thoppigala to survive. And there is nothing as large as the North and the Wanni to talk of, to contain the economically battered South.

For the international community and the Tamil political parties and groups tied with the regime, the government is talking of development for the East. Rid of LTTE terrorism, the East would be democratised from the bottom with Local Government elections held towards the end of the year, is the promise. The East would thereafter be economically developed on a 20 year development plan designed under Presidential supervision. But for this government, development plans have no funds. Without funds, the government is looking out for private banks to bail itself out of bankruptcy even at high interest rates. The government would thus call upon the international community to support its anti-terrorism campaign, calling it a certain victory for the world campaign against terrorism. India may want to buy into this bargain to curb the LTTE some more and also more importantly block Sino-Pakistani influence in Sri Lankan politics. It is a pity that Indians have not been very lucky in intervening in Sri Lankan politics before. For the EU and other international partners, what preferences they would have on Thoppigala is rather doubtful.

Thamil Selvam is reported to have told the media, its no big deal for them to abandon Thoppigala a third time. The first was when the IPKF took the East under their control in 1989 and the second was in late 1993 with President Wijetunge’s promise to defeat LTTE terrorists. The most deafening difference between the two “Thoppigala captures” after the IPKF is that President Wijetunge never made it a political carnival and therefore the South was spared of hyped patriotic campaigns. Yet it was a good playing field that was created for all by Late Brigadier Algama, other officers and soldiers and the LG elections held in 1994, saw the EPDP, the TULF, the SLMC, the UNP and the PA contesting. Some LG bodies were even contested by independent groups. The East remained comparatively peaceful for two more elections to be held; the 1994 August Parliamentary elections and thereafter the Presidential elections. What needs to be stressed further is that, all those elections were adequately free and fair with a good voter turn over of around 60 per cent.

There was a seriously important reason for such ground level civil activity after the Wijetunge take over. Once, the LTTE was swept away, there were no paramilitary groups left to mar the cleaned up environment. Only the government security forces and the Police remained with arms, in the East. Mobility of the people with a sense of security is a necessary pre-requisite for free elections to be held. That environment was created and it was easy for other state organisations to function and for non state, civil society organisations to move about with adequate safety. That was the East, after its capture under President Wijetunge.

This indispensable environment where no one runs around with arms other than the state security forces and the Police, is the most conspicuous difference in the East this time. Karuna will not be an idle observer in the East. He represents a power bloc that would now want to entrench itself further in Eastern politics. The signs are already there. The EPDP that tried to move into the space created by the take over of the East was curtly cut short by Karuna. That compelled Douglas D. to come to terms with Karuna as to who would “Boss” around the Eastern polity. How long such patching up would hold, will again be decided, if the government declares LG elections. Beside state security forces and the Police, all of them will be there in the East to wield their authority in competition with each other and against each other.

Within such rivalry too the previously displaced Muslim farmers would now want their cultivation plots cleared out for themselves. The capacity, or rather the will of the government to intervene in such volatile issues is another that would decide the sympathy of the Muslim leadership in the East. With JHU claims of ancient Buddhist presence in the East, one wouldn’t be surprised if this government plans to settle Sinhala farmers in disputed land. In such a scenario where neither the international community nor the Indians would have little say, who would vote for whom in an election?

Unfortunately for the JVP, what ever the outcome of the East in months to come, they are trapped within the present hyped patriotic campaign. In fact with their posters and public meetings the distance they tried to maintain with the Rajapaksa regime has once again closed in. Now, with the government promising a clean, terrorist free Sri Lanka on the heels of the Thoppigala victory, the JVP can not afford to let the JHU and Rajapaksa’s SLFP to ride this wave of military success without them. They do have a legitimate claim to be on that platform. It was they who slogged since the CFA was signed in February 2002 to forge the Southern Sinhala social psyche that eventually brought Rajapaksa to Presidency.

In all probability, LG elections and development for the East, marching into the Wanni and decimating the LTTE, are as good or bad as the Eelam dream. Thoppigala has had its declines twice before and the third time turned into a state carnival, seems still worse. And that’s what the South needs to understand, the posters aside.


There is no ethnic cleansing in the East by the Govt

The capture of Thoppigala long considered the nerve center of the LTTE, and the subsequent celebrations by the government has received both praise and criticism. While the Opposition UNP accuses the government of politicizing the capture, the government maintains it was only concerned with liberating the East for the people to enjoy greater freedom.

The President on Thursday dismissed criticism that the capture of Thoppigala was an attempt by the majority to have its sway over the minority ‘We will not only ensure the right to vote but also carry out speedy development work, with the construction of roads, hospitals, schools, industries and the supply of electricity, giving new hope and new life to the people in the east,” he said.

Governor of the Eastern Province Rear Admiral Mohan Wijewickrama tells Hard Talk that with a positive frame of mind and the cooperation of all including the international community the government can democratize the province without much difficulty. He insists that development is a must to build the confidence of the people on the administration. Such confidence he believes will make the people see that the LTTE is not the alternative and they will move closer to the government and the ‘LTTE will find it difficult to survive in that scenario.’

Q: Was Thoppigala more a political victory combined with a media frenzy than a real strategic military operation against terrorism?

* Democratising the East is a daunting task.
* Karuna is also threatened by the LTTE.
* Karuna will be a certain substitute for the LTTE and the TNA.
* If the TNA wants to be the power they were they will certainly have to work for it.

I see Thoppigala as the last bastion of the LTTE war machinery in the Eastern province. It’s true that Thoppigala is surrounded by a large jungle area, but they had camps there and these camps were supposed to be impenetrable and they were operating from these camps. Therefore by capturing Thoppigala and the surrounding area we have prevented the LTTE from using those camps to conduct various types of campaigns against the civilians and the military in the area. So I see it certainly as a military victory.

Q: But how do you see these accusations by various sides including the opposition?

I don’t know why they make these accusations, but as a retired naval officer I see the capture as a strategical military victory if you are going to ensure security in the Eastern province.

Q: But the military aspect apart isn’t democratizing the East easier said than done?

It's certainly a daunting task. One just can’t bring normalcy overnight. We have to work hard with all stake holders such as other political parties including groups like Karuna, who have to be brought in to the democratic stream. It needs to be done and you need to look at it positively. It may not happen immediately but we should be able to do it within the course of the next few years. I am very sure that if we have a positive frame of mind and have the cooperation of all including the international community we can democratize the province without much difficulty.

Q:What is the position of Karuna and other paramilitary groups in normalizing the East?

I think there is a little bit of exaggeration as far as Karuna is concerned. He is also threatened by the LTTE and therefore will have to defend themselves, like Douglas Devananda in the North. But the EPDP came in to the democratic fold and Karuna also should join the democratic system laying down their arms. But if they are threatened they may have to defend themselves. Until their safety is assured it will be difficult to totally disarm them. So I don’t think anybody would like to lay down arms and come in to the democratic stream and just get eliminated. But we should be able to make sure that Karuna is not permitted to carry arms in the East. Presently the armed forces and the police are preventing any other groups from carrying arms.

Q:What is his presence like in the East today? What is your assessment of his presence, political or otherwise in the area?

I will not be able to tell you because I have no communication with him, but from what I see in the newspapers they have a political wing which of course get in touch with me sometimes. They were in touch with me when they wanted some housing for some Tamil people who had not got houses after the Tsunami. And they also seem to be filling the vacuum created by the departure of the LTTE. And if they come strong with eminent persons to back them I think they will be a certain substitute for the LTTE and the TNA.

Q:But in a scenario where Karuna is to be de-armed how and who will monitor that Karuna cadres don’t carry weapons in the province?

Certainly in the cleared areas they are not permitted to carry arms. At various check points if they are caught and arrested, certain action will be taken. They are not supposed to carry arms in any of the areas now.

Q:What was the message that the killing of the Secretary conveyed?

That was a means of taking revenge from the government for liberating the East. He was a high profile target; he was a very dedicated, motivated, honest officer who served all communities alike. His track record as the GA Ampara was equally good winning the respect of all three communities. So he was a soft target. It was a target that the LTTE could take with ease. But taking him doesn’t mean that the security in the East is in anyway compromised. We will ensure that such soft targets will not be available to them in the future.

Q:How would you ensure the security of government servants in the future?

We are taking adequate measures to see that they will be looked after much better in the future.

Q:Do you have any idea who will take his place?

No appointment has been made and the government will be making that decision.

Q: With the greater possibility of guerrilla operations being stepped up till it becomes too costly for LTTE to carry on fighting in the east, how viable are the resettlement or development plans proposed?

How I look at it is that they will go back to their traditional guerrilla warfare of the pre 1990 era, where they will try to take opportune targets and disturb the administration. The only way I see is to win the hearts and minds of the people and prevent LTTE having safe houses to operate from because they have lost all their bases in the East. If there is development and there is confidence of the people on the administration and they realise that the LTTE is not the alternative they will move closer to the government and the LTTE will find it difficult to survive in that scenario.

Q: But how wise would it be to go ahead with the resettlement and development plans right away? Wouldn’t they be a sure target?

If development and resettlement doesn’t take place, it is a breeding ground for terrorism. If you want to wipe terrorism off, people have to be resettled and permitted to live a peaceful life with opportunities for livelihood activities. The government is focusing seriously on this programme and we are trying to bring in more and more investment to the area. This should be the attitude of the government and they are on the right track.

Q:Are you in anyway concerned that with the attention moving to the North soon, and the troop withdrawals that may have to take place security may be compromised affecting these plans?

The East can’t be forgotten. If that happens the victory will be lost. That is why I said that development will be the engine that will drive the economy of the East. And to ensure that we must ensure that the security is maintained. I don’t know about the North but I know that we can’t neglect or compromise the security in the East. The security experts will decide on that and I feel that the same level of troops will not be there when the LTTE is flushed out, but what is required is an adequate amount of troops to manage the security. Now that the areas are captured you don’t need such a high level of troop presence. How much they will move and retain is really a question for the defence authorities. But for development to take place you can’t compromise on security.

Q: There is speculation that the Government is not settling returnees in Trincomalee and the Government is accused of purposely carrying out ethnic cleansing. What is your response?

There is no basis for such accusations and the Government is not pursuing such a course of action. The Trincomalee Urban Metro Development plan which has been discussed for a very long time under various Governments was taken up again in 2006. This plan was discussed in detail with the UDA and the Provincial Council, Government Agent and his network and the Chairman of Pradeshiya Sabhas and all Ministries in the central Government directly involved. The Zoning plan was subsequently derived for the overall development of the Town. To cater to certain development areas naturally had been identified. The people who lived in these areas will be relocated with minimum inconvenience. They will be provided with housing etc; better than what they originally had. In fact during the accelerated Mahaweli scheme I remember villages were relocated and even for the Matara Colombo highway too a large number of families were relocated. This is not new in Sri Lanka. For development various changes are necessary.

Q:What percentage of funds really is in place for the development plans?

Huge amount of funds have been committed. I wouldn’t be able to say off hand but a fair amount of funds are committed. Some are committed directly by the government. Even in the Gama Neguma programme , the involvement is great. A lot of infrastructure and livelihood projects are going on in each village. So a lot of things are happening over there.

Q: So the government is not looking out for private banks to help out?

Certainly at the end of the day you can’t carry it out without the participation of the private sector. It won’t be complete especially in the present economic equation. However I see that the reluctance is not by the government but the private sector, but as soon as they see that the security situation is conducive they will walk in.

Q:How many people are already settled and what are the plans for the immediate future?

It is very successful. Resettlement in Batticaloa except for Thoppigala and Vaunativ which were recently liberated where de-mining process needs to take place, will take some time. About 40,000 people are in Batticaloa and to be resettled there. Then we have about 10,000 left from Trincomalee in Batticaloa and they are being brought in batches and are being resettled after making the infrastructure in place. The difference is that in Batticaloa the displaced were resettled fairly quickly and they were resettled within six months because the schools and hospitals had only suffered minimal damage. But in Trincomalee displaced people had been away for more than a year. The resettlement programme is moving fairly satisfactorily.

Q:What about the elections? The Parliament yesterday passed the Bill to hold fresh elections in Batticaloa.

That is not a provincial subject but a decision for the central government. If you look at the Eastern province comprising of the Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee districts, in 2006 we had Local Government elections and members were elected for all the PS in the Trincomalee and Ampara districts and some in Batticaloa. So I think that elections will be held only for the few that were not held in 2006.

Q:But can you ensure free and fair elections with the obvious difficulties for main Tamil parties like TNA fielding candidates with the presence of Karuna, who voted against the Bill?

TNA will certainly have to prove it at another election. You can’t just be in Parliament and say that they represent the people. And maybe if there is an alternative party, they may grab power from them. Certainly the government will have a free and fair election and if the TNA wants to be the power they were they will certainly have to work for it. And at the moment they are not doing anything.

Q:What do you mean they aren’t doing anything?

Well other than just talking about their rights on media they are not on ground.

Q:But isn’t their concern that with a greater armed presence of Karuna cadres they will not be able to campaign in any election?

No I don’t think so. I will not subscribe to that, because unless they live in uncleared areas and now there are no such areas, if they want to come and do politics or development activities in the East and certainly if they feel that the security is insufficient they can request for special security for that purpose for such duration which will be provided. They have never made such a request to my knowledge.


Merger of North and East not ruled illegal-Srikantha

TNA MP M. Srikantha told Parliament yesterday the Supreme Court did not rule the merger of the North and East illegal.

Joining the debate on an adjournment motion moved by JVP Parliamentary Group Leader Wimal Weerawansa in the House, he said the Supreme Court only held that the procedure which was followed in merging the two provinces was illegal and not the merger.

He said the North and East were temporarily merged under the Indo Lanka Peace Accord in 1987 which was a pact between two states. “Therefore, the Sri Lankan government cannot ignore the procedures that have to be implemented under it,” he said.

He charged that the government is trying to handover the Eastern Province to Minister Athaullah “He is day dreaming to become the Chief Minister of the East,” he said.


War will continue until last Tamil falls dead - Gajendran

TNA MP S. Gajendran told Parliament that the war in Sri Lanka would continue till the last Tamil in the country falls dead.

He made this point during the debate on Thoppigala in the House yesterday.

The TNA MP described the liberation of the East as Sri Lankan forces occupying a foreign country after invading and said if the government thinks they can defeat the Tigers in the East, it is a myth.

“We will fight until the last Tamil falls dead and until then the war will continue,” he said

He charged that while the President of Sri Lanka is hailed for securing the East, the people in the area are leading a miserable life.

Mr. Gajendran charged that paddy harvests of the people in the area have been taken away by the forces.

He called on the international community to support the TNA in its endeavour to win their rights.


Two women wounded in LTTE mortar attack

Two women were injured when Athawetunuwewa in Weiloya came under LTTE mortar fire last evening.

The LTTE fired from beyond the Army forward defence line in the area. Two mortar shells had fallen near a house close to the Sarvodaya Bank in Athawetunuwewa and the women were inside the house.

The two injured women, fifty-eight-year-old Karunawathi and twenty-five-year-old Niranjala had been admitted to the Padaviya hospital.

The village had come under LTTE mortar attack over the last few weeks.


ICRC refuses LTTE bodies in Batticaloa

The ICRC yesterday refused to accept bodies alleged to be that of the LTTE from the military in Batticaloa. ICRC spokesman David Vignatti said they had refused to take LTTE bodies from Batticaloa as the LTTE is not operating in the area.

The military was to hand over three LTTE bodies to the ICRC yesterday in Batticaloa but the ICRC refused to accept them.

The bodies are now lying at the police morgue.


SCOPP demands removal of SLMM spokesman

Head of the Government’s Peace Secretariat (SCOPP) Professor Rajiva Wijesinha has in a letter to the Norwegian facilitators urged the removal of the current spokesman of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) Thorfinnur Omarsson.

The SCOPP claims that the SLMM spokesman has been consistently involved in misrepresentations of the position of the Sri Lankan government and the SLMM. “I will not dwell upon several incidents regarding two local newspapers, after which at least the Head of Mission ensured corrections,” Prof. Wijesinha said.

The SCOPP chief says he has also written to the SLMM head suggesting that he tell Mr Omarsson, who is now on leave, that he need not return to the Mission instead of formally asking that he be dismissed.

“As you know, disgruntled elements can cause a lot of problems in a situation in which we must proceed with mutual confidence. I believe immediate action by you, as Mr Omarsson’s employer, will prevent the type of situation we experienced with Gen Henricsson. Sadly Gen Henricsson’s habits may be such as Mr Omarsson too has grown accustomed to, since we gathered from Gen Solvberg that he had worked together with Gen Henricsson for a substantial period,” the SCOPP chief said in the letter to the Norwegian special envoy Jon Hansson Bauer.


Army-LTTE clash in Mannar - Heavy toll

The LTTE launched a pre dawn attack on an army detachment in Mannar yesterday resulting in scores of casualties on both sides though the toll could not be independently verified. The military said it had lost four troops in the three hour confrontation while the LTTE said four cadres were killed.

Both sides also claimed to have recovered a haul of weapons and ammunition following the confrontation, the first major attack to take place just a day after celebrations in Colombo to commemorate the liberation of the east.

The Defence Ministry said rebels launched the attack on the Army detachment at Neelachchena, Uyilankulam near the Forward Defence Lines in Mannar using mortars early yesterday . Security forces retaliated the rebel attempt inflicting heavy casualties on the LTTE, the Ministry said.

“It was a small detachment which came under mortar attack. They keep firing mortars. 3 soldiers were killed initially and one died later in hospital. 4 soldiers were also injured. We have cleared the area and recovered several weapons,” Military spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe told the Daily Mirror.

The Military, while claiming at least 9 rebels were killed and more than 24 injured also said it recovered three T-56 rifles, 13 T-56 Magazines, 355 T-56 Ammunition, three RPG bombs, three hand grenades, a stretcher, a water bottle and rubber slippers.

The injured troopers were admitted to the Anuradhapura hospital of whom two underwent emergency surgery, hospital sources said.

Meanwhile the rebels said a rapid deployment team of the LTTE raided a military minicamp at Neelachchena forcing troops to flee the area. LTTE military wing spokesman Rasiah Illentheriyan claimed ten government troops were killed adding that the rebels returned to bases following the clash.

The LTTE claimed to have recovered a medium machine gun, a light machine gun, a 60mm mortar, four assault rifles, and several rounds of ammunition. The rebels meanwhile also claimed that a eleven month old infant and his mother were injured as a result of retaliatory shelling from a military base in Thalladi, Alankulam in Mannar.

The LTTE also launched an attack on a security post on the Mannar – Vavuniya road on Thursday night injuring four security forces personnel, police said.

Meanwhile Brigadier Samarasinghe said that the bodies of 3 LTTE cadres killed in Narakamulla in the Thopigala confrontation was to be handed over to the ICRC yesterday. He also said that a further 5 were yet to be claimed by the LTTE.

Brigadier Samarasinghe also said that a part of the Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL) recovered in Thoppigala earlier this week was also recovered in the same area yesterday.


Eleven killed in fighting across Sri Lanka's embattled regions

Eleven people were killed and three wounded in battles between security forces and Tamil Tiger rebels across Sri Lanka's north and eastern regions, the defence ministry said.

Suspected rebels clashed with police commandos in the eastern town of Ampara Saturday, with troops killing six rebels, the ministry said, adding there were no casualties among security forces.

Two foot patrol soldiers were wounded when rebels set off a Claymore mine in the northern district of Vavuniya on Saturday, the ministry said.

In the same area, an airforce camp came under rebel attack early Saturday, wounding an airman, police said.

The military claimed they also killed five Tamil Tiger rebels, when they clashed in the northern district of Jaffna late on Friday.

There was no immediate comment from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who have been fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils in a bitter ethnic conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives since 1972.

The fresh clashes come two days after the government celebrated the capture of the last bastion of the LTTE in the east of the island with a victory parade.


Professionalism beats west in the east

As long as the Rajapaksa regime acts professionally to wipe out terrorism the world community would watch in silence. They would neither encourage nor discourage but would watch in silence. The world community has been advising in unison that Sri Lanka cnnot win the war against terrorists. Even though those very same countries were also involved in such armed struggles they vehemently opposed Sri Lanka militarily crushing the very same type of terror on the Lankan soil. They coined the word “war against terror” but limited it to the family of Uncle Sam. No body wanted to see anti-terror activities in Sri Lanka.

The donor community and the entire international community were up in arms against the government for the then prevalent general lawlessness in the capital. The government was at the receiving end of absolute hell from within and outside. However the ability to stop all abductions, disappearances and evictions in Colombo had helped authorities to regain the reins of authority. With the regaining of such authority the government did the next best thing to regain lost prestige. Hence the liberation of the Eastern Province should stand as a monument to determination and courage of those who planned and led the operation and their ability to put an end to haphazard activities in Colombo.

While the proud nation salutes the heroic military personnel for bravely recapturing the lost territory in the East, the liberation of the East stands as a monument to President Rajapaksa’s ability to transform the culture of lawlessness that prevailed in Colombo to a new chapter of professionalism in the East. The professional manner the East was captured without any excesses would have stunned the world community in disbelief in the background of near anarchy in Colombo a month ago.

The donor community and the entire international community were up in arms against the government for the then prevalent general lawlessness in the capital. The government was at the receiving end of absolute hell from within and outside. However the ability to stop all abductions, disappearances and evictions in Colombo had helped authorities to regain the reins of authority. With the regaining of such authority the government did the next best thing to regain lost prestige. Hence the liberation of the Eastern Province should stand as a monument to determination and courage of those who planned and led the operation and their ability to put an end to haphazard activities in Colombo.

Of course there are arm chair critics who unashamedly belittle the military effort in the East on various silly reasons. Those who put forward such silly arguments should bear in mind that whether there are any strategic interests or not, whether they are jungles or not the entire length and breath of the country should be under the rule of the government whether it is UNP or UPFA.

It is opportune at this stage to analyze briefly where the country stands among the world community and what the country gains in the aftermath of this victory. If the Ceasefire Agreement had nullified the governmental authority in some areas the recapture of the East had made amends to such one sided documents and made the terrorists’ claim of North-East amalgamation a pipe dream and shattered the homeland theory. In addition to that the Eastern province was being ‘nurtured’ to be the terrorists’ main landmass. In the absence of the entire eastern province and the peninsula Jaffna the only area under terrorists’ control is the Wanni (Kilinochchci, Mannar and Mullaitivu districts) These three districts are encircled by the Northern and Eastern provinces and the eastern and western coastlines. Accordingly the Wanni is more or less a trapped area for the Tigers. The only exit points are from the Mullaitivu Sea in the East or Mannar or Wilpattu sanctuary coastline in the West. Under such circumstances the loss incurred by the Tigers in the East might spell doom to them in the years to come if the authorities continue to handle the situation professionally.

In fact the authorities should act responsibly to prevent the type of activities that shook the city of Colombo with uncalled for abductions, evictions and disappearances elsewhere in the country hereafter. Especially the newly regained territory of East should be maintained as an epitome of unity and harmony in a civilized manner. Human rights violations would naturally attract the attention of the entire world community. The tendency for highhandedness by interested parties in the East is very much anticipated. The authorities must bear in mind that there is no war situation in the East now; hence there should not be any extraordinary activities by anybody who is some body in the East. In fact the evictions and abductions were said to be extraordinary activities prompted by extraordinary situations. Since the country has by now learnt a bitter lesson by engaging in such extraordinary acts the East should be showcased as an exemplary province to prove the credibility of the government and to keep the world at bay.

The victory in the East has made even the most vocal international non governmental bodies to hide their vociferous mouthorgan in disbelief. No body here or abroad is capable of criticizing the manner in which the military captured the East. The lawlessness prevalent in Colombo a couple of weeks ago almost converted Sri Lanka to a banana republic. Some would have expected the same in the East as well. In quite contrast the no-nonsense professional manner the military under their leaders captured the East had not provoked, agitated or antagonized any living creature any part of the world. The world would have heaved a sigh of relief when terrorists were defeated in the East but made it a point not to appreciate it. Under such circumstances the two different ways the world community reacted to Sri Lanka’s two different episodes convey an indirect lesson to Sri Lanka. The lesson for Sri Lanka is to act professionally to keep the world community at bay. That is the message and the lesson Sri Lanka has to learn from lawless abductions and lawful recapture of the East. As long as the authorities conduct military activities within the law to wipe out terrorism without any excesses the world community would be compelled to mind their own business. The stoic silence maintained by the world community is a testimony in silence for good conduct maintained in the East.

Yes, as long as the Rajapaksa regime acts professionally to wipe out terrorism the world community would watch in silence. They would neither encourage nor discourage but would watch in silence. The world community has been advising in unison that Sri Lanka cannot win the war against terrorists. Even though those very same countries were also involved in such armed struggles they vehemently opposed Sri Lanka militarily crushing the very same type of terror on the Lankan soil. They coined the word “war against terror” but limited it to the family of Uncle Sam. No body wanted to see anti-terror activities in Sri Lanka. The double standard maintained by those countries remains open for everybody to see. The absolute silence by the world community tells a tale that is understood only by them.

The Rajapaksa regime should rest assured that as long as the battle is conducted in a professional manner without leaving room for interested parties to chip in, even the belt-tightened poor peasants of Sri Lanka would support the regime to wipe out terrorism despite hunger pangs crunch them incessantly. This government, one should not forget came into power on hard line policies. Their oft repeated mantra which they preached during the campaign had martial music in the background.

The real acid test Mahinda faces in the East is the democratization of the East and the rehabilitation and reconstruction. First priority is to completely secure the area for rehabilitation and reconstruction. The East should be the icon of the war ravagd reconstruction process. The road network, schools, hospitals, markets and the other infrastructure facilities have to be developed on priority basis for people in the province to earn a living. The devastated war ravaged people might fall prey to various groups who can promise Sun and the Moon. That is why the government should move in first with projects and plans and quick results. There may be lots of other groups claiming a stake in the province. True, those who live in the province should have a stake but that should be purely on democratic principles but not on any other basis.

The hitherto silent world community will wake up no sooner the authorities take the wrong step. The crucial East would be a testing ground for Rajapaksa administration. The crouching Tigers too would be anxiously waiting to pounce on at the opportune time. Such an attack by the Tigers would nullify all the good work done. So the task ahead is to be carried out with military precision. The military has proved their mettle. It is the civil administration that has to come in to take over at a time the world community is uneasy without having a rhyme or reason to attack Sri Lanka over misdeeds.

The authorities should bear in mind that whether friend or foe what matters most is the rule of law and discipline. No party or group can claim that they have a right to carry arms in the liberated East. Once the East is liberated the law and order would be maintained by the law enforcement officials only. Political authorities naturally tend to bend such cardinal rules to help friends and acquaintances because they believe there is no political world without friends and acquaintances. But in the East if that cardinal rule is breached that would give birth to new breed called War Lords. At a time authorities struggle for almost three decades to control the Sun God of the Wanni better not create War Lords in the East.


Tigers dethroned from Thoppigala

Army takes last Tiger stronghold to complete rout of the LTTE from the East

For anyone travelling down the Batticaloa-Polonnaruwa, A11 highway, the Thoppigala peak is visible in the distant horizon, a few kilometres after Welikanda and nearly up to Valachchenai. For many years, however, that was as close anyone, other than the LTTE, could get to this illusive rock, which is more of symbolic value than of strategic military importance.
What Elephant Pass (EPS) was to the Sri Lankan military, Thoppigala was to the Tigers, an impregnable fortress. Just as the Sri Lankan military grappled with the fall of EPS in 2001, this week, the LTTE had to fathom the reality that they no longer were the kings of the Thoppigala jungles.

The much-talked of Thoppigala peak or, the Baron’s Cap, as it was called by the British, is surrounded by vast stretches of jungle with rocky outcrops. This complex mountain range, with its thick jungles, had provided cover for the LTTE, for many years.
Rough terrain, jungle cover and an intricate network of roads carved out in the area, had ensured that the region was virtually impregnable and near impossible to hold by the security forces.
The significance of Thoppigala was further enhanced with the outbreak of violence in the East, last July. Since the launching of military operations to capture Mavil Aru in July 2006, a majority of the eastern LTTE cadres retreated into this jungle hideout, while a few others escaped to the Wanni by sea and overland.

With the fall of Vakarai in January and the clearing of the A5 highway by April this year, the LTTE cadres left in the east, had no choice but to fall back to their fortified positions in Thoppigala. Here, there was a sense of security for the Tigers, since they were well entrenched and the terrain well suited for guerrilla warfare.
However, with the capture of Vakarai and the region east of the A5 highway, the LTTE cadres were well and truly trapped within the Thoppigala jungles, with their supply route to the Wanni cut off and access to the sea denied.
The Thoppigala region, dotted with rocky outcrops and vast areas of open shrub land, posed a serious challenge to the advancing security forces, when they launched their operation to capture the LTTE’s last stronghold in the east.
“The open areas deprived the forces the element of surprise, while the rocky outcrops offered excellent observation posts for the enemy,” said a senior commanding officer involved in the operation. The army launched its three-pronged final assault on Thoppigala on April 12.

In order to deny the Tigers of the strategic high ground, the Commando Regiment was tasked with capturing several key rocky outcrops in the area. With the army taking control of Kottiyagala, Dombageliyadde and Narakamulla, the LTTE was virtually entrapped in Thoppigala, with their main supply routes cut off.

The Commandos captured Kottiyagala peak on June 17 which deprived the Tigers from observing the forces’ movements in the valley below. In the final push towards Thoppigala, the army captured an area of approximately 1,100 square kilometres.
During the last days of the operation, the advancing troops came under heavy mortar fire. The Tigers even used a small multi-barrel rocket launcher to thwart the advancing forces. In addition to the elite units of the Gemunu Watch, the Gajaba and Sinha Regiment infantry units were deployed to the newly captured areas, to reinforce these positions.

It is reported that recruits undergoing training at the Special Forces Training School in Maduruoya were also deployed to engage the fleeing LTTE cadres, in addition to the armoured corps, artillery and engineer corps.
On July 10, the Commandos’ final push on Thoppigala was thwarted. However, the next day, the elite troops reached Baron’s Cap, marking the end of major ground operations in the east.

The military claims that 444 LTTE cadres were killed in the operation, of which 58 bodies were handed over to the ICRC, while ground troops reported seeing over 200 dead LTTE cadres.
Even though the whole of the Eastern Province is now under the control of the security forces, the LTTE is still expected to mark its presence with small-scale hit-and-run attacks. Several LTTE cadres, mainly young recruits, have surrendered to the security forces, while others have mingled with the civilians.
With military operations in the north imminent, it is to be seen whether history will repeat itself, where troop requirements in the north provided an opportunity for the Tigers to re-infiltrate the east, once it was cleared.

After the east, the Wanni beckons

Much has been written of the capture of Thoppigala since then and throughout the months-long operation that was technically divided into two phases that began on February 24 and April 25.
The Commando Regiment has been instrumental in many offensives since the Mavil Aru operations began in the east on July 26, last year. The Thoppigala operation, involving the 2 and 3 Commando Regiments, is no exception and Brigade Commander, Commando Regiment, Brigadier Charlie Gallage has done tremendous work.

He was at hand on Friday to receive Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka and the Chief of Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Donald Perera in Thoppigala.

Elite forces used
From the inception Eelam War IV, the Army used its elite forces – the Commandos and the Special Forces – for the many operations that gave it a tactical advantage over the LTTE. These specially trained forces braving the elements, deprived of regular baths and surviving on dry rations, even capsules for nutrition, made the difference.

The regular infantry troops did their part, while the deep penetration teams brought on the element of surprise and contributed towards the resultant victory in the first stage of Eelam War IV.
The invaluable intelligence and support of the ‘Karuna’ faction, in terms of information on terrain and places he once controlled, also gave the forces more than an edge in this phase.
The LTTE, smarting under the loss of Karuna and his men, failed to make an impression in this phase of the war, where the security forces won almost all the battles.

Salt in the wound
The military won round one in the east, with the last battle at Thoppigala, which it secured on Wednesday, July 11. The Tigers warned that there would be a trap but, in the end, there wasn’t any.
As if to rub it in, the military announced that it would use the Tigers’ Thoppigala training bases to train its soldiers, obviously for the battles ahead in round two in Wanni and the north.
The trend has been that of the LTTE warning of greater bloodshed, if this or that area in the east is captured. But, in the end, it turned out to be a non event.

On other hand, the government had been saying it would stop with Sampur but, in the end, continued its thrust. Finally, with the east liberated, the military is not happy until it forges ahead in the Wanni and the north, claiming that its military positions are threatened by the LTTE artillery and mortars.
The action started several months back, even as Tiger control of the east was beginning to fall apart.

Ready to fight
The LTTE has always withdrawn from the east, when confronted, which is true, even when Col. Karuna held sway for the Tigers there.
But, in the north, as we said before, the forces should not expect a cakewalk, as the Wanni Tigers are well entrenched and will fight it out on their own terrain.
The Tigers have signalled that they are ready for the fight, by performing military drills before the international media, in rebel-held territory in the north.

Drills apart, the Tigers, equipped with artillery and mortars, struck yesterday, killing a soldier and wounding another 11, putting a dozen troops out of action in one go in northern Vavuniya. The military retaliated and killed scores of Tigers, according to Military Spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe.
Tiger fighter S. Kadalarasan, on the sidelines of a practice assault, said, “The main objective on the battlefront is how to destroy the enemy’s battle tanks and armoured vehicles.”

Tank territory
The military would not hesitate to put its armoured corps to good use in what is seen as tank territory. But, the military should be reminded that the last time it tried using tanks in Muhamalai on October 11, lost several owing to the LTTE’s ingenuity.
They were, of course, routed from the Jaffna peninsula in 1995, during Operation Riviresa, which, however, drew troops from the liberated east, allowing the Tigers to infiltrate and control the east again. From the peninsula they moved into the Wanni, where they are well entrenched.

Locked out of the Jaffna peninsula and the east, the LTTE is fully concentrated in the Wanni and would be more than a match for the security forces even in a conventional battle, as we saw west of Omanthai, a few weeks back.
As for the military, to its advantage, troop morale is high, following the capture of Thoppigala, marking the liberation of the entire east, with pockets of Tigers likely to be targetted in the mopping up operations.

Air threats
But, the real fear of the Tigers is the role played by the air force in ‘Eelam War IV’. The air force wreaked havoc on Tiger infrastructure including training camps, bunkers, fuel and ammunition dumps and gun positions.
“We can’t keep a training base for a long time in this area,” said LTTE military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan, alluding to the threat of air strikes.

Round two would largely depend on the air force destroying more of these bases, with yesterday’s attack on the Mannar base being just the beginning.
“We successfully bombed the LTTE camp in Mannar with many casualties,” declared Air Force spokesman, Group Captain Ajantha De Silva.
While the LTTE conceded defeat in the east, for the first time, LTTE political head S.P. Thamilselvan, who has warned of a bloodbath before, has threatened to hit, not only military targets but also, economic ones.

Wanni war on the cards
Thamilselvan also declared that peace was not possible as long as Mahinda Rajapaksa remained President and the role of the international community was futile. However, again it was the Tigers who wanted Rajapaksa as President, in the first place, by enforcing a boycott of the election in the cleared areas, with or without a bribe.
Was the threat and the ‘no faith’ confession an announcement that the Tigers were giving notice they were withdrawing from the five-year truce, which, anyway, is in tatters and would ignominiously be buried unless a miracle occurs? If it doesn’t, war in the Wanni is very much on the cards.

The Wanni Tigers, no doubt, have known to be stronger in the north and Wanni, than in the east but, the series of reversals it faced during the past year, was likely to have a dampening effect on the morale of its cadres, even to defend these strongholds.
While the hardcore LTTEers who withdrew from the east to the Wanni, would fight to the last, the ones recently conscripted would not be motivated to stay on and would escape in the face of the recent reversals. Some have even surrendered to the security forces. The security forces estimate that a little over 2,000 Tiger cadres have been killed.

The LTTE admits that a little more than 1,000 have died in the one-year of fighting. What about those injured? The wounded in action (WIA) is usually much higher than the number killed in action (KIA). Given the dead, the wounded and those who escaped, it would be difficult for the LTTE to put up a good fight in the Wanni and the north. However, it could be argued that the LTTE, entrenched in its positions, does not need those fleeing from the east, to defend the Wanni and the north.

What would make the difference in the second stage of the war in the Wanni and the north is, which side first springs the element of surprise. As we have seen, it would not be easy to repeat the same strategies as in the east, as the Wanni is well fortified.
In this second round, it is the air force, as we said before, that could destroy LTTE infrastructure, training camps, ammunition dumps and gun positions and make a material difference by wreaking havoc. However, it would have to be done carefully, avoiding, as it did in the east, the teeming civilians.

Psychological advantage
While some may question whether there was a tactical advantage as opposed to a strategic advantage in capturing Thoppigala, the psychological advantage of getting at the ‘nerve centre’ of the LTTE in their last bastion in the Eastern Province, is worthy of mention.
According to the military, troops gained total control of Narakamula and Tharavikulama areas, where the LTTE had its eastern headquarters and other fortifications. Troops advanced from three directions namely, Karadiyanaru northward, Sittandi westward and Welikanda southward.

In the backdrop of this success, the Security Council met on Wednesday – sans Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is overseas but, sent his message to mark the occasion.
Unlike previously, when a cake was cut at the Security Council meeting, this time around such celebrations were on a low key, as bagging Thoppigla was expected, since the LTTE was up against it and it was only a matter of time before the Tigers’ supplies would be cut off.

Lines of control
It must be mentioned that the east was demarcated with strict lines of control at the time of the February 22, 2002 Ceasefire Agreement. It must also be mentioned that the LTTE did entrench itself in the east, during the truce.
Major General Lucky Algama (killed by the LTTE at an election rally), together with then Brigadier Janaka Perera, helped wrest control of the east in the early nineties, under then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Cecil Waidyaratne who stepped down after the Pooneryn debacle.

The Special Task Force (STF) has been entrusted with the security of the eastern coast from Batticaloa down up to Pottuvil, Siyambaladuwa and up to Amparai and Maho Oya. The total strength of the STF is 6,000 personnel, with the recruitment drive adding 600 new recruits. The biggest obstacle for recruitment is the requirement that the six passes include mathematics in one and the same sitting.

The STF moved from Kangikadichchi Aru northwards, overrunning LTTE bases up to Pillumalai, while soldiers moved westward form Vavunativu, capturing Kokkadicholai, Ayittimalai, Unnichchai and Karadiyanru LTTE bases. By April 2007, the troops were able to clear the A-5 highway completely, by capturing the section of the road between Chenkaladi and Mahoya. This enabled operations in Thoppigala to flush out Tigers from their last stronghold in the east.

We have dealt with the resettlement in the east, after the many operations conducted in the past year. This must be coupled with development as an alternative for the people to be the beneficiaries, after two decades of deprivation. On Thursday, the Government is scheduled to announce its ambitious plans, despite the Treasury coffers being sapped by military expenditure.
According to government statistics, the Eastern Province is 9,965 sq. kilometres in extent, which is approximately 16% of the total land area of the island. At its longest, it is 286 kilometres, from Kumana in the south to Pulmoddai in the north east, while at its widest, it is 89 kilometres, from Ulhitiya in the west to Kirankulam in the east. It has a 420-kilometre coastline (Ampara 110 kilometres, Batticaloa 100 kilometres and Trincomalee 210 kilometres).

The chances are that development would also take into account the tourist potential of the eastern coast. Scuba diving and other forms of maritime leisure activities are likely to figure prominently in the development plans. Already, the government has announced a buffer zone along sections of the coast.

Need of the hour
Resettlement was effected after flushing out the Tigers who attacked camps in Kattaparichchan, Muttur, Toppur, Selvanagar and Mahindapura. Resettlement in Sampur is yet to commence, while in Vakarai it is almost complete.
Speedy resettlement of civilians is the need of the hour. They must be allowed to earn a livelihood after decades of deprivation, loss of loved ones and a fear psychosis that has gripped them, as they were often caught between the Tiger and the deep blue eastern sea.