Archive for April 9th, 2008

A Commanding officer of the battalion serving the frontlines of Muhamalai in Jaffna was injured in an LTTE sniper attack yesterday morning, the military said.

“The injured Lieutenant Colonel is out of danger, as he was given immediate medical treatment at the Palaly hospital,” a senior military official said.

He said the Commanding Officer was inspecting the forward defences of the military when he came under attack.


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Soldiers engaged in battles in LTTE strongholds killed up to 50 Tiger-cadres within the past 24 hours, the military claimed yesterday.In the first encounter, some 34 terrorists were killed in heavy fighting in the Vavuniya sector including the Madhu Church area.

In the Welioya sector, at least seven LTTE cadres were reported killed in four separate incidents during fierce fighting which continued in the North of Janakapura while seven more rebels were also killed during confrontations in Mannar on Sunday.

Meanwhile, at Urasir, in Vavunathivi, in Batticaloa at least two LTTE cadres were killed by STF personnel when the Tigers exploded a claymore mine targeting the STF who were on patrol.

“Two terrorists were killed when STF officers fired back. There were no injuries to the STF,” the police said.

Meanwhile AP news agency reported yesterday that Sri Lanka air force jets destroyed an LTTE camp that trained suicide cadres.

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The Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) has refuted the assumption the LTTE has been completely wiped out from the East and notes that it will be suicidal for the outfit to disarm at this moment.TMVP spokesman, Azad Moulana says while the LTTE does not have areas under its control in the East, it still has isolated pocket groups which are ready to strike at any given time on military or political targets.

“Our military outfit is operating in the jungles and not in civilian areas. We need to protect ourselves from the LTTE constantly until they are completely brought under control. It will be suicidal for us to disarm right now. In the meantime we will continue with our political work in a democratic manner without using any weapons,” Moulana told the Daily Mirror.

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, in a statement over the weekend, had said it was unfair to take away the security of SLMC Leader, Rauff Hakeem and allow the TMVP Leader to hold arms.

The TMVP spokesman however said the UNP need not fear the arms of the outfit and assured that it would not be used during the upcoming provincial polls in the East.

“The Batticaloa local government election was a good example. We did not use arms to intimidate anyone and we won the polls democratically,” Moulana added.

Moulana reiterated the TMVP had no intention of holding onto its weapons for long and would give it up at the right time when it felt the suitable environment prevailed for such a move.

However despite Moulana’s claims that the outfit does not carry arms in civilian areas there were reports earlier this month that a TMVP official had fired in the air in an attempt to quell tensions that had arisen in Kalmunai between some fishermen and the TMVP.

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had also last week accused President Mahinda Rajapaksa of using the TMVP to forcibly garner Tamil votes from the province.

Party leader, R. Sampandan had charged the President hopes to implement his ‘insidious political agenda’ at the upcoming election through the visible or invisible fire and muscle power of the TMVP and government armed forces.

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The assassination of Sri Lanka Highways Minister and Chief Government whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle (55) by a suicide bomb blast at Gampaha district on Sunday (April 6) morning has deprived the President Rajapaksa of his point’s man in the Sri Lanka FreedomParty (SLFP). The minister was killed along with 11 others when he was flagging off a marathon race as part of the Sinhala (and Tamil) New Year’s Day celebration at Weliweriya. Over 95 others were injured in the blast.

A voluble and assertive personality, the minister had been active in setting up things for the ruling alliance to contest the eastern provincial council elections slated for May 10. The President will be sorely missing his services during the PC election as also in handling the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), which is a loose canon in the political firmament, after the elections.

Fernandopulle had been high on the hit list of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for his strong anti-LTTE stance. He minced no words against them in his speeches. So it is logical to conclude that his assassination was the handiwork of the LTTE. Even the assassination of D.M.Dasanayake, Minister of Nation Building, carried out on January 9, 2008 is believed to have been a case of mistaken identity as Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was intended to be the target. However, this time the assassin made no such mistake.  .

A four-time parliament member Fernandopulle had created an indispensable niche for himself within the SLFP. He was one of the few Tamil ministers who could fluently speak Sinhala and English as well. A no-holds-barred speaker, Fernandopulle was well known for his blunt statements that caused red faces in diplomatic and political circles, and in the corridors of power.

The President is unlikely to let the LTTE get away with the assassination of his right hand man. We can expect him to unleash the security forces in full force once again on the LTTE forward defences in Mannar, Madhu church, Omanthai, Welioya and Muhamalai areas. In any case, the ground indications already point to the imminence of   resumption of offensive by the security forces and the LTTE’s readiness to face them. The killing of the minister is likely to only hasten the process.

Operational picture

Abnormally heavy rains had bogged down the operations in the north so far. The troops deployed near large water bodies in Mannar, Muhamalai, Nagarkovil, Welioya areas have been affected by flooding and slush. This had impeded air and artillery support and defences were waterlogged. Mosquitoes breeding in puddles of water have spread dengue and chikungunia among troops. This is reported to have severely affected operational capability of security forces in Welioya sector along the eastern coast.

Despite the rains during the last month, the SLA had claimed some progress in their creeping offensive after inflicting heavy casualties on the LTTE. On March 21, 2008, the Media Centre for National Security spokesman has claimed killing 6,867 LTTE cadres so far in the operations that commenced in December 2005. As against this, the security forces had lost 1,501 troops in action. The casualty claim at end February 2008 stood at a total of 6,486 LTTE cadres, and 1,196 military personnel. These figures could be inflated or include civilian auxiliaries and need to be confirmed by other sources.

However, the Media Centre figures indicate a sudden escalation in the security forces casualty – 305 troops killed in the four weeks of March 2008) as against a total of 1196 troops lost in the earlier period of 24 months! Moreover, as against the security forces loss of 305 the LTTE had suffered 386 casualties in the same period. This is an alarmingly low ratio between the two, achieved never before.

This shows the combat along the front line even during the rains had really heated up. And as the operations intensify further now and all the heavy fire power is brought in, casualties on both sides are likely to mount rapidly. But despite this, the security forces are undoubtedly better placed. Considering the overall size of the security forces, their casualties are comparatively much less than that of the LTTE which has been mauled severely (though not grievously), losing at least 30 per cent of its strength..

During the last one week the rains have tapered off and the weather has improved. Thus assured air and heavy artillery support should now be available for operations. Similarly, ground conditions should have improved for the using armour without the fear of getting bogged down in slush. The trickle of civilians vacating the battle zones is growing. For the last few days the security forces were being moved forward in Jaffna Peninsula perhaps to get ready for a fresh offensive. We can expect it to start sooner than later.

The LTTE also appears to be gearing itself for the offensive to resume. Three groups including the Malathi and Charles Anthony brigades have been moved to Madhu Church area in the Mannar Sector, according to deserters. Both sides had agreed to keep the church and its vicinity a no war zone. However both sides have been trading accusations of the other side using the holy ground to launch artillery fire. And fierce fighting had been raging for sometime now within a kilometre vicinity of the church.

The Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph has informed that in order to save the idol of Our Lady of Madhu from artillery fire, the church management had shifted the idol to a safe location on April 4.

It is evident that the idol has been moved to the northern most part of the LTTE held territory at the behest of the LTTE. The escalating the combat situation in the area around Madhu Church is probably operational.  The church is located astride the supply routes from Mannar coast to Wanni. So it is vital for the LTTE to defend it fiercely.  It is equally important for the security forces to wrest control of the area. So we can expect the LTTE to fight it out when the offensive resumes in this area.

Both sides appear to be preparing for a long haul. Media reports indicate that Sri Lanka had asked Pakistan for the immediate supply of 150,000 rounds of 60 mm mortar bombs and hand grenades. Pakistan is likely to fulfil another Sri Lankan order worth $ 25 million for the supply of 81 mm, 120 mm and 130 mm mortar bombs. The LTTE also appears to have received from some ammunition, particularly for its artillery. It is not clear which clandestine route is being used by the LTTE to import the munitions. But the Indian coastal zone continues to be the weakest link in the naval defence of Sri Lanka.  We may expect the Sri Lanka navy to intensify operations in the seas around Katchativu in the coming weeks. This could trigger further tensions in both India and Sri Lanka.  This is in the nature of war which always triggers tension in both winners and losers.

(Col R Hariharan (retd.))

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