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Archive for March 6th, 2008

LTTE positions north of Parappakandal, Mannar were attacked for the second time in two weeks by Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) helicopter gunships yesterday evening. Several Mi-24 gunships of the 9th attack helicopter squadron were used in the attack. According to available intelligence information, 5 LTTE cadres have perished in the incident. Exact details of the number of cadres wounded are unavailable as of now. Heavy fighting has been raging in the areas north of Parappakandal for the past month where the tigers are fiercely resisting an army advance towards Wanni heartland.

SLAF’s fighter jets bombed an LTTE underground artillery storage located in Pooneryn twice yesterday afternoon. In a separate raid carried out yesterday morning, one of their artillery launching pads located in Kalmunai point was also targeted.

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Sri Lankan troops have captured a Tamil Tiger held town in the northwestern Mannar area of the island as part of a bid to cut off a supply route to the guerilla stronghold from the coast, the military said.

Parappakandal, around 20 kilometres to the east of Mannar town, is an area around four square kilometers and situated between an irrigation reservoir known as the Giants’ Tank and a strategically important route, the Uilankulam – Anandakulam road.

“Parappakandal is a strategically important both to the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) and us,” military spokesman Udaya Nanyakkara said.

Troops entered the Parappakandal town area Thursday morning, breaking through heavy Tiger resistance.

“They even tried to intensify resistance and block our advance by deploying four of their leaders like Lakshman, Banu, Ramesh and Jeyam in the area,” Nanayakkara said.

“But later they withdrew. With the capture of Parappakandal we will be able to completely dominate the area and hinder LTTE supplies.”

Casualty figures were not yet available, he said.

The Tamil Tigers use a coastal town north of Mannar, Vedithalathivu, to land supplies from the sea and take it by land across the Mannar area to the Tiger stronghold of Kilinochchi.

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In a joint operation, a team of the Kerala and Tamil Nadu police seized an under-construction boat allegedly meant for Sri Lankan rebels near Kochi yesterday.

The 72ft-long boat, in the final stages of construction, was seized from the boatyard of Sudha Marine Engineering at Munambam, near Kochi.

The police also arrested a man, identified as Ismail from Beypore near the northern city of Kozhikode, who placed the order.

The police also questioned another man, who had taken the yard on lease. He had reportedly taken Rs1.2mn in advance five months ago for building the boat.
“They are being questioned and it is too premature at this juncture to give out details,â€‌ N C Asthana, inspector general of police in charge of internal security, said.

“The team from Tamil Nadu had got in touch with us and we provided them with all support. Maybe, the Intelligence Bureau and other national security agencies will also come into the picture now,â€‌ Asthana said.

Two men arrested last week at Tiruchirapalli had tipped off the police about a boat being built for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Kerala. The two reportedly said the boat was being built at Munambam and that it was meant for the LTTE.

Premraj, 48, who was arrested with his associate â€کDiesel’ Kumar, was planning to purchase a motor boat from Kerala and supply it to the LTTE.

A sum of Rs2.5mn was reportedly routed to him through unknown sources. According to reports, the Rs4.2mn boat was to be used to beef up the now tottering power of the Sea Tigers who are engaged in gun and drug running across the narrow Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. They have lost many vessels in the ongoing conflict with the Sri Lankan security forces.

Defence Minister A K Antony recently expressed fears that pro-terrorist groups were now using the water routes in Kerala for their activities and called for strict vigil.

Meanwhile Ismail told the police that the boat was meant for fishing and he was innocent. Police said he was only a commission agent for the boatyard and he was arrayed only as a witness.

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Sri Lanka said Wednesday that 100 of its soldiers were killed and a further 800 wounded fighting the Tamil Tigers last month, showing the escalating conflict is bloodier than previously announced.

The casualty figures were given in a statement to the national parliament by Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, and were sharply higher than those released by the island’s hawkish defence ministry.

“The number of security personnel killed last month was 104, while another 822 soldiers and police were wounded,” de Silva said, adding that 80 civilians were killed and 201 wounded in February.

Defence ministry tallies, however, have listed only 63 soldiers lost in action last month, which saw government troops step up an offensive against the rebel-held north after authorities pulled out of a truce with the Tigers.

The health minister did not give an estimate of rebel casualties, although the defence ministry has said 871 Tigers were killed in February.

Since the start of the year, the ministry has claimed security forces have killed at least 1,837 rebels while 107 government soldiers have been slain in the conflict.

No independent confirmation of the figures has been available since journalists and rights workers are barred from frontline areas.

The new figures came as heavy fighting continued in the north.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who are battling to carve out a separate ethnic homeland in the north and east of Sri Lanka, said four civilians were killed in an alleged military ambush late Tuesday in Mannar district.

The Tigers regularly accuse the Sri Lankan military of sending “deep penetration units” — or small groups of commandos — into the rebel-held north. Government defence officials refuse to discuss such operations.

The rebels usually follow their allegations of civilian casualties in their mini-state with retaliatory strikes elsewhere in the country.

Meanwhile, the defence ministry said two policemen were wounded in a roadside bomb attack in the north on Wednesday, blaming the Tigers for the blast.

The ministry also claimed another 14 rebels and two soldiers were killed in clashes in the north on Tuesday.

(more…)

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The euphoria in the Sri Lankan government and military over the prospects of a quick victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is beginning to fade. While the security forces regularly report the killing of LTTE members, little progress appears to have been made in seizing the LTTE’s major northern strongholds in the Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu districts.

Open warfare erupted in July 2006 when President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered the army to capture the LTTE-held area of Mavilaru in open breach of the 2002 ceasefire agreement. In the space of a year, the military quickly overran the remaining LTTE bases in the East and turned its attention to the LTTE’s northern territory. Last July, the Rajapakse government celebrated the victory in the East with jingoistic speeches and a parade through the capital of Colombo.

In January, Rajapakse finally dropped the pretence of adhering to the ceasefire. The decision to pull out of the truce was accompanied by a series of statements declaring that the LTTE would be defeated militarily by the end of the year. On December 30, Army Commander, Lieutenant General Sarath Fonseka, bragged to the Sunday Observer that “the LTTE could not prevent losing their remaining 3,000 cadres and there is no assurance that the LTTE Leader V. Prabhakaran would survive for the next six months”.

Fonseka, who is expected to retire in December, told foreign journalists on January 11 that he would not hand the war to next army chief. Government leaders enthusiastically repeated the statement, even declaring that Prabhakaran would be captured and sent to India for trial over the murder of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by a LTTE suicide bomber.

A month later, however, the military high command is not so confident. On February 10, Fonseka explained in Irida Lakbima that he was not committed to a deadline for winning the war. “They [the LTTE] are an organised force with a lot of experience… I don’t conduct the war looking at deadlines and timeframes.” Expressing a degree of frustration, he added: “Can a war that has been going on for more than 25 years be completed by March? But, what I say is—give us a chance.”

On February 23, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara echoed the army commander’s comments. As reported by Agence France Presse, he declared that the military was “winning the war…but we have never said that we will finish them off. We have never set deadlines.”

Military operations in the North were always going to be more difficult than in the East, where the LTTE had been seriously weakened by a devastating split in its ranks in 2004. The breakaway group, initially headed by V. Muralitharan or Karuna, took an estimated one third of the LTTE’s total fighting force. It has since collaborated closely with the military in conducting operations in the East against the LTTE, and terrorising the Tamil population.

The course of the war is difficult to follow in detail. The only sources of information are the security forces and the LTTE, which both distort reports to suit their own propaganda. The army allows no correspondents into the war zones. The Colombo media functions under the threat of censorship and physical violence. Anyone publishing negative reports on the military is quickly branded a traitor.

The military’s basic strategy appears to be one of attrition—the use of superior firepower, including air strikes and artillery bombardments, to sow panic among the population, wear down the LTTE’s defences and kill its fighters. The high command is only too well aware of the failure of previous broad scale offensives. In 2000, the LTTE inflicted a devastating series of defeats on the army, capturing its key strategic base at Elephant Pass, in a sharp counteroffensive against an overextended military operation.

In the North, the military is seeking to slowly advance on the LTTE strongholds from all sides—from Mannar in the west, Vavuniya in the south, Welioya in the east and Muhamalai in the north. While there have been numerous reports of small victories and LTTE casualties—all undoubtedly exaggerated—the military has failed to gain a great deal of ground.

The Mannar operations started last July. The army captured the fishing village of Silavathurai last year and has since seized several other areas but the gains remain small. The main aim in present operations is to secure the Madhu area then Viduthalaithivu. The area is crucial to the LTTE’s main supply routes from the neighbouring southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Recent fighting has taken place around the Madhu church area, including Admapan and Pandivirichchan, in preparation for a push on Viduthalaithivu. The Sunday Times reported last weekend that the military had announced the capture of the Pandivirichchaan area and the killing of 20 LTTE members. The pro-LTTE Tamilnet reported the recapture of the area on the evening of the same day, with the killing of 11 soldiers.

On Sunday, the LTTE claimed to have repelled the military’s advance from Palaikushi. This week, the defence ministry claimed the army had penetrated deeper into LTTE-held area in Mannar, killing 83 LTTE cadres and wounding many more. It admitted the military had lost 9 soldiers with 40 injured. Whatever the true figures and territory gained or lost, the fighting is obviously heavy.

On the Welioya front, the results are similarly inconclusive. The military reported that it gained control of some areas previously in “no-man’s land” under the ceasefire arrangements. On February 26, the army handed over the bodies of 14 LTTE fighters to the International Red Cross. This week, however, the LTTE claimed to have thwarted the military’s advances, killed six soldiers and taken ammunition. The seizure of Welioya would open the way for an advance on Mullaithivu, a major LTTE basing area.

The aerial bombardment of LTTE-held areas continues unabated. Earlier this week, the air force bombed Poonakari close to Muhamalai, claiming its fighter jets were targetting an LTTE sea base. On February 22, warplanes bombed the same area. According to the LTTE, that attack resulted in deaths of nine civilians, including an infant and two children. On Monday, the air force bombed what it claimed was a communication centre in Kilinochchi where the LTTE headquarters are based.

Another sign of the military’s difficulties is its turn to India for assistance. General Fonseka began a six-day tour to India on Sunday “to further strengthen the military ties”. He will meet India’s defence minister, A.K. Anthony, as well as top military and civilian officials in a bid to obtain weapons and light aircraft. However, Fonseka is unlikely to get all that he wants from India, which to date has provided limited assistance and training. While wanting to prevent an LTTE victory, New Delhi is concerned that the ongoing war will inflame opposition in Tamil Nadu.

The Sri Lankan military is under pressure from Rajapakse to deliver a quick victory. His government, an unstable coalition of 13 parties, confronts growing popular discontent over the economic impact of the war, which is helping to fuel inflation and undermine living standards. Rajapakse needs success stories to boost his chauvinist appeals and to dispel fears in ruling circles of an inconclusive and protracted war that will inevitably fuel an economic and political crisis.

Speaking on Sunday at a rally in Ratnapura organised by his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Rajapakse declared that the government would carry out “liberation operations” against the LTTE until “every inch of land is captured and the last terrorist is completely destroyed”. He insisted it was the “bounden duty” of people to support the war.

The government is not conducting a war for “liberation” or against “terrorism” but to maintain the economic and political dominance of the country’s Sinhala Buddhist elite. For six decades, Colombo governments have whipped up communal politics to divide working people and prop up their rule. Rajapakse’s decision to plunge the country back to war was bound up with his government’s inability to deal with growing unrest over declining living standards.

The return to war has only compounded the economic burdens on working people. The military has purchased new weapons and boosted its strength to 150,000, recruiting 34,000 last year. Another 15,000 are to be recruited this year. Along with rising oil prices, military expenditure is a major factor fuelling inflation. The annualised inflation rate hit 24 percent in February. Rajapakse has responded to any opposition, including strikes and protests, by demonising critics as “pro-LTTE”.

These social and political tensions will inevitably sharpen if the military operations against the LTTE slow, or if the army suffers reverses. That accounts for the shrill tone of Rajapakse’s speech at Ratnapura—it is a sign of growing desperation.

(http://www.wsws.org)

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Four Sri Lankan civilians have been killed in a roadside bomb attack allegedly carried out by government security forces, the Tamil Tiger rebels said Wednesday.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) said the civilians were ambushed late Tuesday in Mannar district, where heavy fighting has been raging for weeks.

“Four displaced civilians from Mannar who were travelling in a tractor-trailer to their homes in Thadchanamaruthamadhu came under a claymore attack by the Sri Lanka army,” the Tigers said.

“All four were killed instantly.”

The Tigers regularly accuse the Sri Lankan military of sending “deep penetration units” — or small groups of commandos — into the rebel-held north. Government defence officials refuse to discuss such operations.

The rebels usually follow their allegations of civilian casualties in their mini-state with retaliatory strikes elsewhere in the country.

Meanwhile, the defence ministry said two policemen were wounded in a roadside bomb attack in the north of the country Wednesday and blamed the Tiger rebels for the blast.

Since the beginning of the year, at least 1,823 rebels and 105 government soldiers have been killed in fighting, according to the defence ministry.

Aid workers say more than 170 civilians have also perished during the same period. The rebels have been fighting with the government’s military for an independent homeland for minority Tamils since 1972.

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