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Archive for June 9th, 2008

Two separate incidents involving the LTTE were reported from the recently liberated eastern Province over the weekend.

In one incident ten persons who had been abducted in Pottuvil area by an unidentified gang were released on Saturday. They told police that they were abducted by the LTTE and detained in a camp.

Pottuvil police with the help of the security forces were conducting inquiries to trace the location of the camp.

In another incident a homeguard was abducted in Pulmoddai area allegedly by the LTTE when he was roaming in the jungle with five children to collect fruits.

The armed gang who detained the home guard ordered the children to bring 50 packets of rice to release him. However, the children who were frightened of going back to meet them, informed police.

Police said a search operation in the area to trace the whereabouts of the home guard and to track down the abductors was going on.

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Even after 17 years, the CBI has not left its pursuit to unravel the conspiracy behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and recently an agency team was here seeking banking details of alleged LTTE financier Kumaran Padmanathan.

Diplomatic sources here said that CBI Director Vijay Shanker held talks with his German counterpart and Federal agency Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) chief Jorg Ziercke.

During the talks, they said, the CBI took up the matter of financial transactions of Sri Lankan national Padmanathan or “KP,” who was alleged to be a major gun-runner for the LTTE.

The talks were part of the bilateral exchanges between the two countries to pave the way for signing of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, besides being a return visit by the CBI Director in response to an invitation extended by his German counterpart when he had visited India last year.

The Indian delegation stressed execution of Letters Rogatory which were pending with the German authorities for long. The LRs were issued by Multi Disciplinary Monitoring Agency to various countries, including Germany. But the main impediment for the CBI was that several countries, including Germany, Australia, Switzerland and the Netherlands, demanded an undertaking that the death penalty would not be imposed or carried out against any such person whose details were sought in the Rajiv Gandhi case.

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Sri Lanka and Croatia are exploring the possibility of setting up a joint venture to build ships for the SLN.

Authoritative sources said Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda during a recent visit to Croatia had discussed the proposed venture which would also involve the Colombo Dockyard Limited (CDL).

Karannagoda’s visit had been preceded by Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake’s tour of Croatia, the sources said, expressing confidence the project would be a reality and facilitate Sri Lanka’s efforts to enhance the operational capacity and capability of the SLN.

The SLN destroyed eight LTTE floating arsenals in separate operations conducted on the high seas beginning September 2006 to early October 2007. The sources said although the SLN had maximised the use of available assets to weaken the enemy’s ability to bring in fresh consignments of arms and ammunition, the need to acquire additional platforms couldn’t be further delayed, the sources said.

The sources said the SLN needed a range of vessels to strengthen the existing fleet to thwart Sea Tiger operations on the high seas and in the Palk Straits. A bilateral agreement between the two countries to build fighting vessels would be advantageous to Sri Lanka, a senior official said.

The Croatian government had said it was ready to get involved in the project which would be the first of its kind between Sri Lanka and a foreign government, the sources said.

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In recent days the region around Colombo has been subjected to a series of LTTE terror attacks.

The most recent was the claymore mine that targeted a bus on Friday in Moratuwa, a Colombo suburb and killed 22 persons. This attack represented a step up in the technology utilized, as the bomb was set off by remote controlled means. The previous bomb attacks on civilian targets in the Colombo region, such as the bus bomb in Piliyandala and train bomb in Dehiwela were by bombs left on board. But this one evoked memories of the horrendous claymore mine attacks over the past two years on passenger buses in Kebetigollewa and Buttala , which are areas bordering the north east of the country where the war is being fought.

The general public\’s sense of shock and outrage at those attacks that have led to casualties that number between 50 and 100 on each occasion is palpable. But so is the sense of helplessness. Guarding against bags and parcels being left in crowded public buses and trains, where sometimes at least ten people hang on to the footboard, is next to impossible. It is also inevitable that in the course of normal travel, people have to carry bags and parcels about with them. Guarding against claymore mines placed on the side of the road is also virtually impossible. Trees and bushes that provided greenery and shade to the roadside are now being cut down because it was in such a thicket that the Moratuwa bomb was hidden.

For all the security systems that are being set up in Colombo and elsewhere, and deployment of security forces which seem omnipresent, it is virtually impossible to safeguard the civilian population against LTTE attacks. Colombo remains an open city, with a multi ethnic and diverse population, representing what Sri Lanka is struggling to remain and to be.

Investigations have revealed that the most unexpected persons, regardless of ethnicity, could be assisting the LTTE, sometimes out of conviction, sometimes for financial gain. So long as the LTTE is organized to wage war against the state, and to commit injury to all and sundry as it suits its purpose, it will be very difficult for the government to put an end to their terror campaign by security means alone.

On the other hand, every time that the LTTE launches a terror attack, those who are victimized by it and who empathise with the victims, grow ever more resolute to eliminate it through the security forces as the only way out. In the meantime regular life goes on, with people going to work, children going to school, all hoping that the next attack will not catch them or their loved ones. They would also avoid doing what does not have to be done. The children\’s play area and amusement park at the Vihara Maha Devi Park, which is crowded on Friday evenings was virtually empty the day of the Moratuwa bus bombing. A park attendant asked, \”What is happening to our country?\”

QUESTION WHY

One explanation for the civilian bombings is the pressure that the LTTE is coming under in their remaining stronghold of the Wanni. The visible progress of the Sri Lankan military into the Wanni strongholds of the LTTE is slower than the government had initially promised. But it appears to be continuing steadily, albeit at high cost to both sides. The threats and assaults on journalists who question the military campaign indicate the stresses on the government side. These stresses must surely be even greater within the LTTE, which is on the back foot.

The generally accepted explanation for the LTTE\’s terror campaign is that it is trying to distract the government from its main objective of capturing the Wanni. A major increase in the tension between the multi ethnic communities living in different parts of the country, or a communal riot as occurred twenty five years ago in 1983, may require troops to be brought back from the northern battlefields to protect the peace in the south. The government\’s explanation for the quick declaration of a police curfew in the Moratuwa area after the bus bombing was to ensure a more effective search operation to take place. But it may also have been to prevent civilian unrest that threatened Piliyandala a few weeks ago in the immediate aftermath of a bus bombing there.

It is also possible that the attacks on Colombo could be connected to a more long term calculation of the LTTE to reduce international support to the government by provoking more human rights abuses. The LTTE is viewed with disfavour by the international community on account of is terrorist actions and more terror attacks in Colombo and elsewhere will do nothing to redeem it. But more restrictive practices against Tamil civilians, including human rights violations against them in the campaign against terror, could put the government in the dock once again, as in the post 1983 period.

In addition, the impact of the constant stream of news emanating from Sri Lanka of terrorist attacks would have a negative impact on the entry of foreign tourists into the country. This would add to the economic crisis that is already a major concern of the government. Another target of the LTTE attacks could also be the forthcoming SAARC Summit in early August, which would bring leaders of all the seven South Asian countries to Colombo. The government would be compelled to increase security measures and turn Colombo into a garrison city which would demonstrate the impact that the LTTE is having on the country, and erode the image of the government.

FULL CIRCLE

What is noteworthy is the full circle that the LTTE has traversed in seeking to make its impact by attacking civilian targets. Their actions in the mid 1980s and thereafter when they attacked civilian targets in addition to military ones led them to be branded internationally as one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world. But from about 2000 onwards the LTTE appeared to have graduated to a more conventional military force that did not target civilians to cause terror. In the midst of major conventional battles that led to hundreds of combatants being killed there appeared to be an informal agreement that civilians would not be targeted. This helped in the confidence-building process that finally led to the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 which gave primacy to political means of conflict resolution.

It may be a sign of the tremendous military pressure that the LTTE is under that once again the spectre of vicious terror strikes against civilians has re-emerged. On the other hand, the LTTE may also be reacting to the civilian killings within the areas of their control in the Wanni by air strikes but more particularly by a series of claymore mine explosions. Like in the case of the attacks in Moratuwa and Kebetigollewa, these have been remotely detonated and targeted against civilians. In the past three weeks, at least three such attacks have been reported, with 16 civilian deaths being reported in one incident. The LTTE has claimed that these attacks have been done by the Deep Penetration Units of the government, which the government has strongly denied.

Attacks against civilians living under LTTE control would be a serious blow to their claim that they are the sole protectors of the Tamil people. The government has pointed to the possibility that these civilian killings by claymore mine attack deep within LTTE controlled territory is the result of internal splits and infighting between different factions of the LTTE. The government has also pointed out that its air strikes are the result of careful planning and that the pilots have reported that they successfully hit the LTTE targets that were intended. In the absence of opportunities for independent verification it is impossible to know the ground realities.

There is academic theory, backed by statistical analysis, to show that in situations of escalation and reprisal, if one of the parties foreseeing the disaster that is to befall both, decides to de-escalate, and is met by a cooperative response, the vicious cycle of escalation can be reversed. As in the past, de-escalation can lead to a positive cycle in which trust grows. The government being the responsible party for protecting civilian life all over the country needs to consider the de-escalation option. As a first step it could obtain the services of trusted intermediaries, either local or international, to communicate with the LTTE its desire to safeguard civilian life in all parts of the country, including the Wanni, even as the war is being fought.

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Sri Lanka’s military on Sunday claimed at least 40 LTTE cadres were killed in fighting along the Forward Defence Lines (FDLs) in the past 48 hours amid raids conducted by the Air Force SLAF on an “LTTE gathering point.”

A Defence Ministry statement said military formations broke into “LTTE defences in multi-pronged offensives” in Mannar, Vavuniya and Welioya. It claimed at least 27 cadres were killed and 20 others wounded. The ministry said one soldier died and 21 were injured.

The Air Force on Saturday claimed to have bombed “an LTTE leaders gathering place” located in the Puthukkudiyiruppu area. Air Force spokesman Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said the location targeted was an identified “command centre” of the LTTE, located northeast of Puthukkudiyiruppu.

The Air Force received information that a meeting of LTTE leaders was taking place at the centre. However, the military was yet to assess damages suffered by the LTTE. Separately, the military claimed the Tigers “continued to suffer heavy losses in Wanni.” It said 11 soldiers were injured in the fighting.

In another development, the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA), in a statement issued here expressed “its deep anguish” over the killing of civilians in different parts of the country.

“In the Wanni, Tamil civilians, men, women and children are killed in large numbers by aerial bombing, multi–barrel artillery shelling and claymore attacks by deep penetration units. These are regular occurrences and are reported in the media. It is within the power of the government to bring to an end such indiscriminate killings of Tamil civilians,” the statement said. The TNA said civilians were killed by explosive attacks in other parts of the country and such killings caused immense suffering to families involved and created a sense of insecurity amongst the civilian. “We wish to appeal that all such violence be brought to an end,” said TNA parliamentary group leader R. Sampanthan.

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The Sri Lanka Army’s 59th Division commanded by Brigadier Nandana Udawatte yesterday approached the LTTE main ‘One Four Base’ situated in thick jungle in Mullaithievu and which has many satellite camps.

Yesterday around 6.00 a.m. troops sneaked towards the LTTE controlled Mullaitivu area from Weli Oya through a region heavily infested with Jony mines.

Specially trained infantry troops backed by artillery and mortars advanced and were met with heavy resistance from LTTE cadres until evening. The LTTE fired 130 mm artillery and also mortars while troops retaliated in kind.

Troops were able to capture five heavily fortified LTTE bunker lines which provided security to ‘One Four Base.’

In the fighting 17 LTTE cadres were reported killed and 35 wounded while six soldiers were reported to have been killed and 18 wounded.

Reports reveal that heavy fighting is continuing as Army infantrymen continue to march forward backed by concentrated artillery and mortar fire at identified LTTE positions, military sources asserted. Scores of terrorist bodies were also observed scattered ahead of the bunker defences, sources said citing ground troops.

(more…)

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The main suspect in Wednesday’s Dehiwala train bomb attack, Jatheesan Balasubramaniyam, 29, struck his neighbours and co-workers as being just another “harmless” average citizen.

Balasubramaniyam was arrested in Vavuniya, after arousing the suspicions of a female home guard at the Irattaperiyakulam check-point in Vavuniya. He was on his way to the LTTE-controlled Wanni.

For the past 18 months, the suspect, a resident of Mullaithivu, had been working as an engineer for a Rajagiriya-based trading company dealing in air-conditioners. He had been married for six months, and had been a Wattala resident over the past three years.

n the first one-and-a-half years he occupied a rented house owned by a teacher. He later moved out and joined five other Tamil persons from Kandy who occupied a three-room flat on the upper floor of a two storeyed house.

Neighbours described Balasubramaniyam as quiet and as someone who kept to himself. He would buy his groceries from his landlord, P. P. Marcus, who had a shop on the ground floor.

“He would leave for work on his motorbike at 6.30 in the morning and return about 7 in the evening,” Mr. Marcus told The Sunday Times. “He would buy his groceries from my shop. He didn’t talk much.”

In February this year, the five persons from Kandy handed over the flat to the suspect. A few weeks later the suspect got married to a Vavuniya resident, and brought his bride to live with him in the flat.

Mr. Marcus told the Wattala Police that, after his marriage, the suspect would return home at strange hours of the night.“When I asked him once why was he getting late, he said it was because of work,” Mr. Marcus said.

Police investigations have revealed that on the eve of the May 26 Dehiwala train bombing, four persons had called on Balasubramaniyam around 11 pm and left after midnight. It was later found that one of the four persons had provided the suspect with the explosives used for last Wednesday’s train bombing.

In a reconstruction of events surrounding the bomb blast, it was found that on Wednesday the suspect left his apartment at 5.45am and arrived at Dehiwala at about 6.30am. He was wearing a white shirt and black slacks, and carrying two bags. He parked his motorbike in a seaside lane and proceeded to walk along the railtracks towards Wellawatte.

His target was a packed train, carrying some 1,500 passengers, that left the Panadura train station at 6. 45am. He dropped one of the bags he was carrying on the rail track near Ebenezer Place and walked away. At 7.15am, he detonated the bomb, using a remote controlled device.

According to eyewitnesses, the suspect then ran up the lane. Residents of Ebenezer Place gave chase. One person grabbed the suspect for a few moments. The suspect dropped the second bag he was carrying, ran along the Galle Road and hopped on to a bus heading towards Panadura.

Fathima Rafeeka, who owns a shop near the spot where the train blast occurred, told The Sunday Times that she noticed a man walking back and forth on the railtrack when she opened her shop that morning.

“He was acting in a very suspicious way and looking furtively in my direction. I was about to call the police emergency hotline when I heard a loud explosion,” she said.

Dr. Wilfred Kumarasinghe, director for the Kalubowila Teaching Hospital, told The Sunday Times that 27 persons injured in the train blast were admitted to the hospital on Wednesday, and by Thursday 13 of them had been discharged.

The bag left behind by the suspect was found to contain his passport, work-related documents and a walkie-talkie that, according to the police, was tuned to a frequency used by the LTTE.

On Wednesday night, the suspect got off a bus at Medawachchiya and boarded a bus to Vavuniya, where a female guard at the Irretaperi-yakulam check-point alerted the officer in charge at the Irretaperiyakulam Police Station, who then took the suspect into custody.

According to the police, the suspect had made a statement to the Vavuniya police in which he confessed to carrying out the bomb attack. The suspect had stated that a person living in Modera had given him the bomb, with instructions on what to do with it.

On Thursday three other suspects were arrested in connection with Wednesday’s bombing. Following information given by one of the suspects, members of the Special Task Force and the Wellawatta Police recovered 3kg of C-4 high explosives, five electrical detonators and a mini-pistol with ammunition during a search operation conducted in the Wellawatta area.

Sources in the Government Analysts’ Department told The Sunday Times that the train bomb was found to have contained C-4 type explosives packed with ball bearings.

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