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Archive for March 9th, 2008

The Sri Lankan Civil War has been raging for decades with tens of thousands of people killed on each side. Ethnic Tamil separatists have been fighting for a racially exclusive country in the North and East of the island. Developments since 2004 have seen the Liberation Ligers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE lose almost all of their territory in the East of the island, while minor losses have been suffered on the Western coast as well. Splits within the rebel organization and a modernized Sri Lankan military has pushed the LTTE to the brink of destruction and what could be the final stage of the war is on the horizon. The remaining LTTE forces have been surrounded in the Northern part of Sri Lanka, called the Wanni. This region includes the rebellion’s capital city of Kilinochchi and is defended on several fronts by long lines of trenches, bunkers, and minefields. Commander of the Sri Lankan Army, Lt. General Sarath Fonseka, has sworn to take control of the Wanni by the end of 2008, and fierce trench warfare has resulted in tremendous losses on both sides.

The total collapse of most of the LTTE controlled territory in the past few years has allowed Sri Lanka the opportunity to end this long war once and for all.

However, Sri Lankan Military advances have stalled on all fronts in the Wanni. While minor advances continue on the Mannar, Weli Oya, Vavuniya, and Jaffna fronts, these advances are measured in yards. Initially, general Fonseka did not want to capture territory. His objective was to kill as many LTTE fighters as possible to degrade their military force ahead of a major offensive in the months between rainy seasons. With over a month of good weather already lost since the Northern Offensive began, there has been a disappointing lack of progress into LTTE territory. This can be attributed to four key factors:

  • The No-man’s Land between Sri Lankan and LTTE trenches have been heavily mined, as have areas within LTTE defenses.
  • Public Opinion holds back a major offensive because many people fear the heavier upfront casualties that such an offensive would entail.
  • General Fonseka is acting too conservatively for various military reasons.
  • Economic considerations limit Sri Lanka’s capacity to wage war.

In this first of another two part series, the question of clearing the minefields that are largely responsible for the stalled Sri Lankan advance will be addressed

The large number of anti-personnel mines and a fewer number of anti-tank mines are a serious threat that impedes Sri Lankan advances. Several solutions exist to combat the minefields, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Defining and implementing a strategy to break through these minefields and any future minefields with relative speed and effectiveness should be one of the highest priorities of the military, if not the highest. Four main possible solutions, each with with unique benefits and drawbacks, will be discussed here.

The Sri Lankan military has used  low-tech methods for eliminating mines for decades.

The first option is the oldest solution to land mines in existence. Often referred to as the “Poke and Pray” method, this is the simple act of having an individual walk into an area thought to be mined and start poking the ground with a knife or stick. When they hit something metallic or hollow, they carefully dig it up and dispose of it, all the while praying that the mine doesn’t explode in their face. This method is very slow and would take too long to be a viable option for clearing a path into the Wanni. The use of hand held metal detectors is a derivative of this method.

A flail system was the first effective method of quickly clearing a safe path through a minefield.

A second option is to used a modified bulldozer equipped with swinging chain flails in place of the standard blade to “rake” the minefield. This method is much faster than the previous solution and workers are protected from the dangers of anti-personnel mines. It does suffer from two big setbacks though.

Terrain can greatly limit where a bulldozer can go. The thick jungles of the Wanni and any rocky terrain can limit the bulldozer’s effectiveness and even prevent access all together. This allows the LTTE to know well in advance where this system can punch a hole for a military advance, and they have had a long time to prepare strong defenses in these bottlenecks. An ideal solution would allow the military to break through the minefield at a greater number of locations, preventing the LTTE from catching soldiers in a vulnerable bottleneck. The whole of the Jaffna Front is testament to this problem.

The other issue is the bulldozer’s vulnerability to enemy fire. These slow lumbering targets are easy to hit with RPGs, mortars, rockets, and even artillery. While escorts can and must be assigned to each bulldozer, by the nature of their task, they must be exposed to enemy fire more than any other unit. This gives bulldozer units a high casualty probability and these prospects make this an undesirable solution, though they will probably be used anyway, where possible, due to necessity.

A third option that has been considered in the past but has proven to not be very reliable is the bombardment solution. The general idea is to saturate a minefield with artillery, mortar, rocket, and even cluster bomb air strikes to blast a hole through the mines. Despite it being the safest, since no one has to actually enter the minefield or brave hostile fire, four issues make this solution a dead end.

First, the imperfect nature of carpet bombing means that there is no way to be sure that a path is clear. Next, unexploded munitions add risk to soldiers on the march, replacing many of the mines that would have been destroyed. The last purely military problem is that the hours or days of bombardment would be a pretty obvious giveaway that the SLA plans to move through this particular chunk of real estate. This gives the LTTE plenty of time to prepare for Sri Lankan advances. On an economic note, the price for the munitions needed for such an attempt would be beyond Sri Lanka’s economic capacity, assuming they plan to fight the rest of the war after breaking through. Given that their ability to pay for the Northern offensive is already in doubt, this kind of spending is a get out of jail free card for the Tigers.

Using a chain of explosives to clear a path through a minefield has proven to be very effective in recent conflicts, including the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Another solution that has possibly the greatest potential for success is the use of explosive chains fired into a minefield to blast a hole path for soldiers to exploit. This method is used by most well to do military organizations, such as the Chinese and the NATO states. Gaps varying in size from enough for a single file line of infantry to wide gaps for tank columns can be made depending on the power of the explosives and can clear a path hundreds of yards long. These explosives use shock waves to detonate the mines as if they had been stepped on, and as a result of using shock waves that pass through the air and ground, the trees and stones that might limit a bulldozer are no longer sufficient protection for the mines. By firing a chain of explosives from a certain distance, the mine clearing units are more protected from enemy fire than a bulldozer would be, while the unit is never at risk from the mines they are seeking to clear. The effectiveness and superior safety of this design make this the preferable solution on a purely military level. The only serious drawback is the cost, not only in building the contraptions but in munitions that bulldozers don’t spend. Looking at cost in this way, though, is not the right way to go about assessing value. These costs must be compared, not just to the cost of modifying a bulldozer, but also to the price of replacing destroyed bulldozers and the cost in lives that more dangerous methods entail, as well as the cost in tactical military capabilities, since a bulldozer is limited in where it can advance, giving the LTTE clear indications of SLA routes of advance.

The basic conclusion is that bulldozers should be used in cleared areas where mines remain, and in areas where explosive chain units are not available, but that these explosive chains should be used as extensively as possible on the front lines.

Now an odd reaction seen from many Sri Lankans when it comes to military hardware is “who can we buy these from” and this is another example of this. It then opens up the debate on how Sri Lanka can afford to buy such units and this has become the killing stroke for many ideas for military reforms. This is a bizarre reaction. This is a dangerous mindset that should be discouraged. The LTTE are masters of innovation and the Sri Lankan military should seek to emulate them in this regard. Explosive chains are just packages of explosive material, chained together, thus the name. The rest of this engineering marvel is building an industrial grade blowgun with “bomb on a rope” tied to the end. If the blowgun method proves to be too problematic, the SLA could always just remove the warhead from a mid-range rocket from one of the MBRLs and use it. They might even use the MBRL itself and not even have to build a separate unit for mine clearing. Regardless, this is not science only attainable by world superpowers.

This is just one example of Sri Lanka’s bad habit of seeking to buy what they can make, but that’s a story for another time.

(History and War)

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Date: November 22, 2000

Time: 0500 hours

Location: Off Mullaithivu shore

FAC (Fast Attack Craft) P 495, was on her way from Trincomalee on a detachment to the North. Leading Seaman U.G.T Kumara, a gunner of P 495, was the eldest in a family of three children, with one younger brother in the Sri Lanka Air Force and a sister who is married to one of his batchmates in the Navy. For Leading Seaman Kumara, joining the Navy has always been his dream.

“I remember when we were small my brother challenged me, saying that he would come in an Air Force aircraft and shoot me, I just put a lid on it, realizing that, that would be the best and only reply I could give, at the time.”

Hailing from Matale district, he had little exposure to the military, though his enthusiasm was heightened by a few documentaries he had watched on TV at the village temple. His first sight of the Navy was when he arrived at the Galle Face on a school trip, when he saw a real SL Navy ship for the first time.

He had promised himself then and there that he would some day join the Navy. After receiving his ordinary level education at Ehelepola Veera Madduma Bandara College, Matale, he joined Pallewela Maha Bodhi Vidyalaya for his Advanced Level and went on to join the Navy on April 24, 1997, as a recruit.

FAC, P 495 was just returning from patrolling the Manakkadu area when the radar indicated the presence of some 14 to 15 LTTE boats. The OIC (Officer In Charge) of P 495, Lt. Commander Rajive Senaratne ordered his crew to get into firing position. Two other FACs P 422 and P 494 along with P 495 sped towards the LTTE fleet.

The LTTE boats commenced firing at the FACs and the three FACs retaliated with a counter attack. P 495 raced towards the sea for reloading and returned with a fresh assault. “That’s when we detected two suicide boats heading our way.” Suicide boats are easily detected via the radar because other LTTE boats stay clear from FACs, at a 500 to 900 metre range.

Both engines of P 495 took a hit, sending it out of control momentarily, in a flat spin. But the crew of the P 495 proved exceptionally brave and proactive, eliminating any possibility of the suicide boats getting anywhere near enough to do major damage. “The sailor behind me got shot on the head and the abdomen.

On board an FAC there is no place to take cover. The LTTE used 20 mm guns as their assault weapons.” The gun mount of his MPMG (Multi Purpose Machine Gun) – the kind Kumara was using – took a bad hit, his right thumb chopped off and, fell on the deck. “There was a towel in the wheelhouse and I wrapped it around my hand.”

All other guns on board were too heavy for Kumara to handle. But his yearning to serve the country at a time of need was greater. His only choice was to supply ammunition to other sailors engaged in combat and firing at enemy targets using an AGL (Automatic Grenade Launcher). It was very easy to handle, he held it with his left hand and fired with a slight yank of his elbow. By this time there were several casualties, with two bodies.

The towel wrapping on Kumara’s hand was drenched with blood and was getting heavier by the minute, a liability at such a vital moment. He squeezed the blood out of the towel every now and then, replacing it on the wound. “We never gave up firing.”

0900 hours:

Three men dead. The LTTE was 3.5 to 4 nautical miles from the Mullaithivu shores. This meant easy reinforcements for them. When they ran out of ammunition, reinforcements turned up from the shores in no time at all. “It was like home for them.”

And Sri Lanka Navy was close to enemy land area. “It was like a dream. There were three suicide boats and we didn’t let them come anywhere near us.” The Third Officer In Charge took a hit to his leg and fell into the water. Leading Seaman Kumara threw him a rope and pulled him back on board. He told the officer not to shoot but to just sit tight.

“I gave a good backing to others as best as I could and performed first aid on the wounded.”

After a while the LTTE fleet started to retreat. But by that time much damage was done. “There were splinters of glass, gut and flesh everywhere.” By this time P 495 was flooded, a height of almost two metres. “I was deeply disturbed.

The dead colleagues were my friends. We ate and had practically lived together.” On an average P 495 launches 50 to 60 attacks a year. No one on board was ever killed until this particular attack. “But we were trained for this. Lt. Commander Rajive Senaratne, was very tough and always boosted our morale.

He was the kind of officer who simply refused to wear body armour and insisted on fighting side by side with his fellow sailors.” The other FAC, P 494 helped out with the casualties who were later transferred to a hospital.

Leading seaman U.G.T. Kumara was awarded Rana Wickrama Padakkama for ‘going beyond the call of duty’, by saving the life of his third Commanding Officer, performing first aid and extracting his fellow sailors who were injured and continuing to fire at the LTTE boats, while being injured himself.

This week’s token of gratitude is once again dedicated to a national hero of the Sri Lanka Navy.

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Adampan (Attampana) village is situated in the Manthai West Assistant GA Division in the Mannar district and falls within the Mannar rice bowl hence making it a farming village. Adampan, since the advent of Eelam war I has bared the brunt of conflict between Government forces and the the Tamil Tigers in securing the coastal areas surrounding Mannar.

Lt. Gen Kobbekaduwa during Eelam war II carried out a series of operations on the backdrop of severe threats posed to SLA bases at SILAVATHURAI, KOKKUPADAYAN. The main objective was to interdict Tiger supply lines along the Mannar coast that were smuggling much needed supplies into Wanni hideouts. Operation Tiger chase was launched as a result in the general area of ADAMPAN, ARIPPU and PARAPPAKADANTHAN areas of Mannar. This was supported by subsequent operations to clear up fleeing Tiger cadres code named Operation Brush up. This focused mainly along the A20/A14 West of VAVUNIYA.

Since the success of General Kobbekaduwa, due to successive policy shifts brought about by successive elected governments, the areas fell to the Tamil Tigers during the period of 1991 to 1997. The same area at least the South of it came within the cross hairs of the military again only in February 1997 when Operation Edibala was launched by the 53rd Division led by Brig Vasantha Perera and Brig Nanda Mallawarachchi. The aim was to capture the A14 plying from POOVARASANKULAM To MANNAR. This was a prerequisite to the lengthy Jayasikurui campaign.

Coming onto Eelamwar IV with the loss of vast swathes of the Eastern shores, and the permanent naval blockade by the SLN along the VETTILEIKERNI – KOKKUTUDUVAI coast, the Western coast running from MANNAR to POONERYN has become the sole supply route of the Tamil Tigers. From the SLA’s point of view with the MSR A9 from OMANTHAI to MUHAMALE being out of bounds, the A32 from Illupaikaduwai, Pooneryn to Jaffna across the Sangupiddy ferry runs an ideal prospect of being an alternative till the A9 is liberated from Omanthai to Muhamale. The added advantage of the A32 is unlike the A9 the A32 route needs to be defended from only one flank (East). If this is to be achieved, the Western coast becomes equally valuable to the SLA as it is to the Tamil Tigers. The third dimension is the added advantage to India. With the great majority of refugee influx originating from this same coastal belt it can seriously reduce the number of refugee influx to Tamil Nadu. The fourth added benefit is for the SLN where the shallow waters of the Mannar basin hampers its Super Dvora FACs operating, making only the lightly armoured IPC waterjets operate to interdict Tamil Tiger smuggling activities. Thus securing this coastal stretch will significantly reduce the threats posed to SLN waterjets and its personnel from superior if not swarming fleets of Sea Tigers.

This is the backdrop for the battles for Adampan and its surroundings.

The first major thrust took place on December 1st 2007 when MANTHAI north of ADAMPAN was captured. This came as a surprise to the Tamil Tigers stationed at ADAMPAN since they expected the thrust to come about from PALLIKULLI located South of ADAMPAN. Seeing the overall plan of SLA to circumvent ADAMPAN the Tamil Tigers launched a fierce counter attack as early as the next day to no avail. Backed by the lack of preparedness of the LTTE, 582 brigade made further inroads on the 11th of December 2007 capturing NARIKKULAM and on the 27th December, strong points of CHETTUKKULAM (9GW), close to ADAMPAN junction. Further limited operations were carried out intermittently bringing the road joining CHETTUKKULAM and THIRUKETHISWARAM under control. Currently they are holding positions just under 1Km from the ADAMPAN junction (just ahead of CHETTUKKULAM).

The second major thrust took place South of ADAMPAN on 22nd of December 2007 when 581 brigade (10 GR) took on the UYILANKULAM road block of the Tamil Tigers. After securing the UYILANKULAM area 581 brigade troops tactically moved along the Giant’s tank bund with one flank to defend. 8 GW troops of 581 Brigade reached SINNAODAIPPU sluice gates and its adjacent areas north of GIANT TANK by 28th February 2008.

While the 581 brigade was moving North of Giant’s tank troops attached to 583 brigade – 6 GW and 9 GW made their thrust towards PALLAKULLI capturing VIYATTANKULAM in the general area of VANNANKULAM on 29th of January 2008. Just a week later on the 8th of February 2008, 8 SR of 583 ensured the fall of the South of the now defunct ADAMPAN tank.

On the back of a diversionary move by 583 brigade, troops of 581 captured the all important ANDANKULAM junction on the 4th of March 2008 bringing the UYILANKULAM-ANDANKULAM road under government control. This is of significant strategic value since the road east of the junction continues up to the Madhu church.

With these developments 581 brigade at the time of posting are positioned under 1 Km East of ADAMPAN at MANTHOTTI and NEDUNKANDAL with a firmly secured ANDANKULAM junction while 583 brigade are stationed at the newly captured PARAPPAKANDAL town. This is roughly 1Km from ADAMPAN.

With this status quo the next step would be 581 and 582 to initiate movements towards ADAMPAN junction, linking up in the process and completely securing the stretch of road plying from ANDANKULAM to THIRUKETHISWARAM. This also means that ADAMPAN town is ‘boxed’ in as the map suggests bringing the town and its vast surrounding area of the Mannar rice bowl to the hands of the military. Once the town is strangulated by the two pincers (581, 582), 583 brigade can be expected to make its entry into the town centre.

The network of tanks and irrigation systems in this area has made paddy farming the primary source of livelihood for its inhabitants. This rice bowl also means the area is open terrain, ideal for snipers and indirect fire support. At the area North of this green belt – roughly located at the VAUNIYA-MANNAR border – jungle terrain begins. These jungles are known to continue up to the suburbs of KILINOCHCHI. With roughly 50 SqKms under its belt, once the 58th division manages to secure remaining rice bowl, it can seriously dent the Tamil Tigers’ fire support brigades which long has been a nemesis for advancing troops.

With the ADAMPAN box firmly within its grasp, the SLA has the opportunity of joining the all important A32:

  1. From North of ADAMPAN junction via MULLIKANDAL and MINUKKAN towards PAPPAMODDAI
  2. From North of ANDANKULAM junction via KANNADI and PARAPPUKADANTHAN west

Whatever the option SLA takes, it will not be welcome news to the Tamil Tigers. With the supply sea routes fast shrinking with its overseas arms network in close scrutiny than never before, it will attempt to defend its sea bases tooth and nail. One such base of particular interest to the SLA is VIDULAITIVU, notorious for its sea smuggling operations conducted to and from Tamil Nadu safe houses. Unfortunately for the Tamil Tigers this base lies in close proximity to the A32 making any siege against the sea base fall perfectly in line with SLA’s long term goals.

(http://sf-3.blogspot.com)

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The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched several small scale counterattacks against the advancing forces of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in the Parappakandal region yesterday. Although pro rebel media claimed high casualties for SLA in these incidents, our sources indicate that the attacks were neutralized with minimal casualties with the help of Air Force gunships and armored units. The army brought the entire Parappakandal area under their control on the 6th of March. LTTE is offering stiff resistance to the army advance in this front as the area contains one of their main supply routes to several major LTTE bases in Mannar district. 15 SLA soldiers have been killed and another 40 have been wounded in clashes in Parappakandal area during the past week. Although exact figures are unavailable, the LTTE too has suffered a significant number of casualties in these incidents.

In another development, LTTE leader Velupillei Prabhakaran made a public appearance after a long time during the funeral of K.Sivanesan. This appearance is likely to put an end to rumors of his leg being amputated, of him being on deathbed due to SLAF air strike and to some which even claimed his death.

Although the LTTE leader did receive injuries in one of SLAF’s air raids, they were not life threatening according to our sources. MI reports also indicated that he escaped the attack on X-Ray base.

Meanwhile LTTE infiltrations in Monaragala district continued to trouble senior army officials as another tractor transporting SLA soldiers came under a claymore attack yesterday. The attack which occurred in Galge, Buttala, resulted in the death of one soldiers and two others being injured.

(http://defencenet.blogspot.com)

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For the first time in history the LTTE has deployed its Sea Tigers under Mannar Sea Tiger Commander Lakshman to defend a land-based location from the Army. The location is Adampan Town. A large contingent of Sea Tigers have been brought and deployed from Veduthalthivu Sea Tiger base.

581, 582 and 583 Avenues of Approaches under the 58 Divisions laying siege on Adampan today captured a small tank situated south of Adampan (too small to show in a map). 12 Gemunu Watch (12 GW), recently resurrected after losing almost two-thirds of its men in the Elephant Pass and Iyakachchi debacle (2002), managed to capture Munkalmurichan, a small village situated south of Adampan last week.

Roughly ten days ago the SLA captured the entry-exit point in Mannar at Uylankulam. Adampan is now surrounded by 3 Avenues of Approaches of the 58 Division (many civilian sources wrongfully call the divisions 57th, 58th and so on)

Meanwhile reports from intelligence sources have indicated that the LTTE Leader V. Pripaharan, who had made a statement to his followers that Eelam War IV would be fought exclusively with explosives, has plans of causing much more explosions in the south than before.

2 of the 3 one-tonne lorry-bombs sent to Colombo were captured last year, but another remain hidden somewhere. Claymore attacks in Colombo have subsided, but the LTTE team inside Yala is still active as evidenced by yesterday morning’s attack on a SLA tractor at Buttala, injuring 2 soldiers and killing another.

The tigers fired 40mm grenades from a single-shot grenade launcher and injured 3 soldiers with a booby-trapped grenade left-behind near Kala Oya near Wilpattu last Tuesday. SLA believes an 8-man team of Tigers had been deployed in the Wilpattu wildlife sanctuary prior to the LTTE vacating Silavathurai last year.

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The run up to the Batticaloa District Local Government polls, to be conducted tomorrow, has been relatively peaceful. In fact, it has been more peaceful than the April 2004 General elections, with the LTTE on the rampage, in the wake of the split in its ranks. The Karuna faction broke away from the Wanni Tigers on March 2, 2004.

Last Sunday marked the 4th anniversary of Karuna’s defection.

Though Karuna Amman, the former military wing leader of the LTTE, is no longer in the scene in eastern Sri Lanka, his political and military contribution has caused a huge dent in the once monolithic organization- the LTTE.

Firstly, he challenged the LTTE with the regionalism card and sought to break the back of the organization by saying that, in the separatist war, Tamils in the East were deprived of top positions within the organization and simply treated as cannon fodder by the Wanni Tigers.

As if that was not enough, when Eelam War IV began, he shared secrets of the Tigers’ military strength, thinking, plans and counter plans and of course, helped fight them on familiar terrain. He played the role of a devil’s advocate in exchange for protection and security, which he forfeited when he was dispatched to London.

He is now under interrogation by the British Immigration office and the police and faces possible charges under international law.

However, Karuna’s legacy is the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) he founded with the support of Rehabilitation Minister and EPDP Leader Douglas Devananda.

Pillayan, the beneficiary
Now, led by Pillayan, the TMVP is expected to sweep the polls contested by 22 independent groups and six political parties, including the EPDP-PLOTE and EPRLF combine. A former PLOTE cadre was killed in KoKokodicholai three dsays back, instilling fear in the minds of voters and cacdidates.

Pillayan and Karuna’s former spokesman Azad Moulana, along with TMVP party officials, were in a closed-door meeting last night, hours before the election.

There are 4,200 election officials for a total of 270, 473 eligible voters, which works out to one official for every 65 voters, making it difficult for rigging, particularly, given that 6,425 police personnel have been placed on duty.

But, given the fears and uncertainties, it’s possible that there could be a low voter turnout, which of course provides an opportunity to stuff the ballot boxes, unless election department officials and the police, used for transporting the boxes, are not coerced into ‘conduct unbecoming’.

SLMC threatened
The SLMC candidates have been reportedly threatened by both TMVP and the LTTE for different reasons. The TMVP wants to grab as many seats and the LTTE was keen on demonstrating that it was a one-sided contest.

If the LTTE is still doted, it is possible that voters could deliberately spoil their votes, as a mark of protest. Protest for what, we may ask, as the people of the Batticaloa District, who have not seen development, either during times of war or peace, would be waiting for a return to normalcy and a better life.

The TMVP is certainly raring to go and is bound to do a job of work to win the hearts of the people and perhaps become a serious political party. They would want to be a responsible party, with eastern Tamil leaders ready to manage the affairs of their people, much to the chagrin of the LTTE.

It is for this reason that, even after nominations were called, one did not see armed TMVP cadres roaming the streets in February and even March, according to eyewitnesses.

UNP and TNA, the ultimate losers
If a free and fair election could be held, this would be a triumph for democracy. But, the fact that the main opposition UNP and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) are boycotting the election, giving the TMVP a walk over, seriously questions whether democracy is upheld and those elected are truly representative of the people. In other words, there is the possibility of a skewed representation. Who is to be blamed? It is the TNA and the UNP. These two parties should not have shirked their responsibility, come what may.

This will be to the disadvantage of the UNP and the TNA, should a general election follow. The ruling TMVP (even at local government level) would be at an advantage, as it would have the machinery at its disposal to face general elections, even though party funds would be meager.

Added to that, contesting the general elections in the first flush of the local polls victory, would give it an added impetus. The party would have the opportunity to prove to the people that it is industrious and could be trusted.

Perhaps, the TNA and the UNP could still contest a general election, with some hope, as what is expected of the local councilors is different from that of Members of Parliament or, for that matter, Provincial Councilors.

Even if a General election were to follow later, a Provincial Council (PC) election was very much on the drawing boards to set up the Eastern PC.

But, if a General election is held, in line with the thinking of President Rajapaksa and his advisors, such a move would further reduce the LTTE’s representation of Tamils through the TNA.

It is believed that a new alignment of Tamil parties and forces at the local, provincial and centre, would strengthen the SLFP.
The JVP, too, was likely to lose its clout, as its numbers would come down by a third. The JVP’s main platform to militarily defeat the Tigers, has been plundered by the SLFP. The SLFP and the Rajapaksa family, which, however, would have to face criticism on allegations of corruption and nepotism, removal of the Director General of the Bribery and Corruption outfit and failure to constitute the Constitutional Council and thereby, give effect to the 17th Amendment to the Constitution.

TNA MPs under threat
The LTTE has already lost ground in the east and any further loss of political representation in there would seal the fate of the organization vis-à-vis the east.

The TNA would also lose seats to the EPDP and PLOTE in the north and Mannar,. Prospective candidates of the TNA would think twice before entering the fray, given that, already, three TNA MPs and a fourth Tamil MP were gunned down, even before a General election was announced.

This week, Jaffna District TNA MP K. Sivanesan was killed in a claymore mine blast at Kanakarayankulam on the A-9 highway, between Puliyankulam and Mankulam, closer to the latter region. The LTTE blames the action on the Army’s deep penetration unit, while the military says the LTTE did it to bring the government into the bad books of the international community, even while the 7th Session of the Human Rights Council is in progress in Geneva. But, unwittingly, the LTTE does not realize that by accusing the Army of killing Sivanesan, it is conceding that the military is very close to Mankulam.

Eleven weeks back, on December 16, Senpathi observed that events indicate that “General elections were on the cards, sooner than later.”

The SLFP, the main constituent of the ruling UPFA, would not want the Army to go all the way into Mullaitivu, once it reaches Mankulam.

Party stalwarts and strategists are aware that the military was routed in Mankulam and Oddusudan, more than nine years ago, in an operation that Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka himself participated along with two other Generals.

Alive to the fact that the LTTE had seven long years to prepare its defences in peace times and almost two years of undeclared war, government advisors and military planners could be tempted to take the serious bite, once it possibly wins a second term. Any major military rout, ahead of elections, in the last lap of this government, has the potential of ruining the main ruling party’s re-election bid.

Inching forward
After gaining a foothold in Adampan, the 12th Gemunu Watch on Tuesday launched a major offensive on LTTE groups led by Bhanu, to secure a kilometer stretch of land at Karukkankulam, north of Uyilankulam area.

The Army was engaged in heavy fighting in the Parappaankandal area in Mannar yesterday. The pro-LTTE website Tamilnet reported that heavy fighting occurred here yesterday, but the defence ministry website had not reported the incident, even though newspapers said that the area had been secured by the troops. However, neither side gave casualty figures, even though the LTTE reported that the Mannar-Medawachchiya Road was closed the whole morning for civilian traffic, as it was used for rushing ambulances to Anuradhapura.

The LTTE is offering heavy resistance in Mannar, but was likely to withdraw in the Madhu area, in the face of advancing troops.

The military plans to reach Mankulam on the A-9 Road, after securing Vidattaltivu from north of Mannar, where there is a decent road to this destination.

Meanwhile, 57 Division under Brig. Jagath Dias, was advancing in the direction of Madhu and Palampiddi, from where it hopes to extend it up to Puliyankulam, to force the Tigers operating north of the Madhu area, in the jungles beyond, to flee.

But, the LTTE leader in Mannar, Luxman, appears ready to do battle. He has ordered the withdrawal of women cadres from the Madhu jungle area and has now deployed male cadres to form a forward defence line linking Periyamadu, Palampiddi and Palaimoddai, to resistt the advancing forces. This is an admission that the security forces have advanced and an indication that pitched battles were likely sooner than later.

There would also be a forward thrust from Omanthai to Mankulam, in the days ahead. By bypassing the enemy, what the military plans to do is make areas south of the Vidattilativu- Mankulam line, redundant.

Madhu shrine in the way
The church authorities maintain they have no say over the jungle area of Madhu. They, however, are resisting any presence of the warring parties in the shrine area, saying that this was likely to attract artillery and direct fire from the other side, rendering the church vulnerable.

The shrine area is a very small area and is not occupied by the Tigers, but the 50-odd acres of jungle beyond the shrine area, is occupied by the Tigers. However, during four feasts, throughout the year, the Government Agent is permitted, by law, to take this area under church control, for the benefit of pilgrims who come from all parts of the island.

Meanwhile, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga’s acknowledgement to Mannar Bishop Rt. Rev. Rayappu Joseph’s letter, was received on Friday. The Mannar Bishop spoke to Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa, ahead of the letter sent to President Rajapaksa dated February 20, but received six days later.

The letter was an urgent plea to maintain the sacred shrine of Madhu as a zone of peace. Previously, the Bishop, together with the Archbishop of Colombo, met President Rajapaksa along with the Madhu administrator Rev. Fr. Emil Emilanaspillai, on October 26, seeking to discuss the zone of peace in the sacred shrine area.

Mankulam memories linger
Once the Madhu shrine area and the jungle beyond are bypassed, and the entire Mannar area under the military as before, the security forces would like to take on the Tigers at Mankulam.

As the reserve strike forces advance, the holding divisions move up, but, given the high casualties figures announced by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake, it could be a high-risk gamble for the government to conduct this operation in one go.

But, that would be no easy task. While time and money is on the Tigers’ side, morale and numbers are on the forces side, as of now. The Tigers have lost quite a number of its cadres, and are yet to prove their mettle in Eealm War IV. But, the military is not that better, by extending deadlines.

The government has no exit strategy, as the LTTE would demand the opening of the A-9 Road, to commence any form of negotiations, which the administration would not agree to. The LTTE would not want to come for talks at this juncture, as it has lost the east, even though it has proved to have the conventional capability to hold territory in the Wanni.

The next best option for the government would be to go for snap elections and receive a fresh mandate to carry on the war to a finish, as the Tigers have been greatly weakened.

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While right-thinking Muslim leaders, not succumbing to this pressure, have tried to get the frustrated youth to involve themselves in politics instead, others have made use of them – and continue to do so even today – for crimes. This is an open secret in the east.

In a worrisome development, amid violence and threats in the east, there are confirmed reports that say Muslim extremists are abandoning their previously quiet lifestyle for armed resistance.

Several attempts by a few Muslim leaders in the east to conceal this fact has failed as the extremists, mostly youth, who have been ignored by society, are insistent on carrying arms and fighting for their lost rights.

It is known that the creation of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) itself was in order to prevent Muslim youth from embracing arms. This is a clear indication that the Muslim youth have been longing to embrace militancy, similar to Tamil militancy, with a view to protecting their interests.

The majority of Sri Lanka’s 1.3 million Muslims live in the east and a section of the community has been overtly exerting pressure on Muslim politicians and leaders to deal with the LTTE militarily.

Open secret
While right-thinking Muslim leaders, not succumbing to this pressure, have tried to get the frustrated youth to involve themselves in politics instead, others have made use of them – and continue to do so even today – for crimes. This is an open secret in the east.

The Muslim community has always been under threat from both the Sinhala community and the Tamil community. One cannot simply forget the expulsion of the Muslims from the north in 1990 by the LTTE.

Similarly, it is also hard to forget the manner in which the present government has grabbed lands from wealthy Muslims in the east in the name of development.

Continuous harassment and failure of the Muslim leaders to deliver on what they promised prior to elections to the masses have annoyed a group of youth who have decided to carry arms, which have been provided to them by the state.

The Muslim militants today are not visible. They are widely described as ‘Sleeping Tigers.’
Informed sources have confirmed that militants have not obtained any serious weapons training at the bases so far but are well equipped to strike, given a chance.

The cause
The rebels justify their causes for the creation of militancy in the east. They point out that it is due to insecurity and the failure of political leaders to deliver the goods.

They also state it is because of manipulation by the armed forces who today administer the Eastern Province and that their groups were born out of compulsion.

Most of the youth who are armed are the ones who have no access to political patronage or employment. They are isolated and feel rejected in society. However, they have had firsthand experience in fighting under different Tamil militant groups in the past.

According to confirmed reports, the government has facilitated the causes for the birth of the militant groups, which some intellectuals say could turn out to be “dangerous” if ignored.

Most of the youth who had received military training from ex-Tamil militant groups have also been used by government forces to fight the LTTE in 2000.

They were provided with arms and given a free hand to shoot anyone they suspected of being a Tiger, without realising this exercise would boomerang one day.

Muslim militancy
Though Muslim youth have had extensive military training under various Tamil militant groups since 1987, the Muslim militancy per se was created only in 2002 after the United National Front (UNF) signed the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).

The initial leadership was given by one Suresh Cassim who deserted the Army and later started training Muslim youth in Kinniya. Later he was killed in Dehiwala by the LTTE.

Initially, the militant training was not for the same cause the LTTE is fighting for at present, but for self protection – to fight against human rights violations and deprivation of their basic rights and privileges.

However, it is now learnt that these small groups, mostly wielding AK 47s and other small arms, are being used by local politicians for their own motives.

It is also learnt that these groups are also prepared to demand the inclusion of Muslim representation in any future peace talks and a separate Muslim council in the east to look into the interests of the Muslim community.

These groups are at present operating in some of the villages of Eravur, Kinniya, Muttur, Oddamavadi and Batticaloa.

Split
These youth were mainly allowed to mingle with Karuna cadres to identify LTTE Tigers and attack them. This situation prevailed only until Karuna was accepted as the leader of the Tamil Makkal Vidudalai Puligal (TMVP).

But no sooner the relationship between Karuna and his Deputy Pillaiyan became acidic, came the problems between the government forces and the Muslim militants.

The militants could no longer be the undercover agents of the government as virulent attacks started between Karuna and Pillaiyan factions, and the Muslim militants were left in the lurch.

Once the Muslim militants were left alone, the LTTE started picking them out and killing them. This was evident during the 2001/02 period in Kinniya and Muttur when scores of Muslim youth were massacred by the LTTE. A similar scenario also existed in Batticaloa during this period.

Today these small armed groups are being used by local politicians, especially in order to meet their aspirations during the local polls.

The structure
These armed groups don’t have a specific structure or any objectives. Though well trained by Cassim, they are not led by any particular individual. They are scattered but well armed. These groups are isolated and not in a contiguous terrain.

They are certain about the danger they face from the state, the LTTE and even others. Hence they are in hiding, in places where access is difficult for Police or civilians. They demand protection and welfare, which nobody is willing to offer. They are not fundamentalist groups. Nor do they fight for land or space. But they prefer to be called ‘Jihad.’

However, should there be an all out war in the east, it cannot be ruled out these groups would come out together as a powerful force to strike at their enemies. While this cannot be comprehended at present, several individuals who have extensively studied their movements and moods have confirmed that there is a possibility of this taking place.

According to these sources the number is growing and the help they receive from outside villagers is also on the rise.
It is also alleged that some of the Muslim religious leaders have expressed their support as Muslims in general have become the latest victims of the ethnic war.

“This is certainly an indication that more and more Muslim youth are interested in joining these groups but are not willing to reveal their identity at present,” these sources from the east explained.

Move to mitigate
Concerned by the growing development, some senior Muslims are also trying to eliminate these groups. Some are even willing to meet these youth to talk to them to understand them better and provide them with whatever help they could offer.

As a preliminary step, some politicians are also planning to hold discussions in Colombo to find out how the Tamils and Muslims could be united so that they could be perceived as one voice by the outside world.

Meanwhile, complaints have also been lodged with the Human Rights Commission and with the local Police that Muslim militants are plundering the properties of the Tamils in Sampur.

In the run up to the local government election, there have been several incidents of grenade attacks against the supporters of the SLMC in Valachchennai. It is strongly believed that most of the attacks were spearheaded by the militants on the direction of some powerful local politicians.

Politicians’ stance

Meanwhile, SLMC Secretary General, Parliamentarian Hassan Ali denied any existence of Muslim militants in the east. He said even underworld elements were classified as militants and therefore it was incorrect to use the term ‘Muslim militants.

However, he maintained that the creation of SLMC was to prevent youth from taking to arms.

“We realised that the ethnic war was turning against the Muslims in general and our youth were getting really frustrated. It was after having felt their pulse that the SLMC was created, and the youth are now under our control,” he added.

He admitted that Muslim youth joined various militant groups in 1987 but said that they subsequently gave up arms and joined the democratic process.

However, former SLMC high command member and present UNP Eastern Convener A.M.M. Naushad said one must view this phenomenon in the context of what the Muslim community has been going through as a result of the ethnic war.

“Right from the inception, successive governments have used sections of the Muslim community to drive a wedge between the Tamils and the Muslims. This has taken many forms and in the current context there are groups, I mean small groups, of Muslim youth who are being manipulated by the security forces in their bid to keep the balance. This is unfortunate but it is a fact,” he added.

Joining the Army
Meanwhile SLMC high command member and Eastern Election Campaign Manager M.L.A.M. Hisbullah said the Muslim youth did take to arms in the past but that they later returned their weapons.

He added that a few may not have returned their weapons and that the government had subsequently absorbed such youth into the Sri Lanka Army. He also said that the recruitment of these youth into the Army was not very clear.

“We believe these youth were not given any professional training, such as the training given to others. We also feel that these youth have not been absorbed according to normal procedures. They are the ones who are being used by the government ministers today for violence. They are paid by the Army but work for government ministers,” he said.

He admitted that the Muslim youth were compelled to take up arms in the past due to frustration. “But now they are controlled,” he asserted.

(more…)

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