Sri Lanka’s security establishment is bracing for a revenge attack from Tamil Tiger guerrillas for the assassination of one of its top men a fortnight ago.
A retaliatory strike to avenge the killing of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran’s confidante Shankar alias Vythalingam Sornalingam on September 26 is uppermost in the minds of state intelligence agencies.
Shanker, a 52-year-old former Air Canada employee was credited by the rebels for organising Prabhakaran’s many moves over the years, was killed when his vehicle was ambushed by a claymore mine at Oddusudan in Mullaitivu deep in the LTTE held jungles of the country’s north central province.
The LTTE squarely pins the blame on a crack army ‘deep penetration’ commander unit popularly known as the ‘Long Rangers’ and vows to hit back.
Army headquarters denies responsibility and say that Shanker was killed due to internecine rivalry within the guerrilla organisation.
The incident has, meanwhile, sent a chill down the spine of the LTTE as orders have gone out to its cadres to be extra-vigilant. “For once the hunter has become the prey,” said one commentator.
The LTTE has for years pounced on lone targets in the “south”, especially VIP politicians.
The LTTE is blamed for the assassination of president Ranasinghe Premadasa, Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, deputy defence minister Ranjan Wijeratne, industries minister Clement Goonaratne, navy commander Clancy Fernando, retired major general Lucky Algama and the attempted assassination of President Chandrika Kumaratunga among a host of others, by using suicide bombers.
Before Shanker’s killing, the LTTE lost its deputy leader of the Sea Tigers unit, Gangai Amaran, a man responsible for underwater attacks on naval craft. They also lost their political wing head for the eastern Batticaloa-Ampara region, Nizam, and the eastern zone communications head, Mano, in similar fashion.
The LTTE’s deputy military commander, Balraj, the LTTE’s political wing leader S.P. Thamilchelvam (who was engaged in negotiations with the Norwegians) and several others, and its eastern province intelligence wing leader Ramanan have survived.
The pattern has worried the LTTE hierarchy which believe the Long Rangers are closing in on them. An unofficial ’emergency’ is reportedly declared among the group.
While their own commando unit, the ‘Leopards’ are combing the jungles in search of the Long Rangers, their intelligence units are questioning residents for suspected collaborators.
Security sources believe the army has been able to make some “friends” with local residents living in or around the thick jungles who have some access to information of LTTE activities.
Several points of entry into the jungles have been closed down by the guerrillas and its leaders who can be easily identified because they travel about in Pajero jeeps with escort vehicles have been asked to take alternate transport and different routes.
A striking feature of all the LTTE assassinations have been the use of claymore mines, a device that can be activated manually or by command or tripwires.
The deadly weapon was used effectively by the Viet Cong in their war against America. The LTTE also uses the mine.