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Archive for June 30th, 2008

Sri Lanka said the army cut a main supply route for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam when soldiers captured Mannar’s rice-producing area in the latest blow to rebels holding onto their last bases in the north.

“Advancing security forces took control over the entire Mannar `rice bowl’ area” yesterday, the Defense Ministry said in a statement early today. Soldiers captured 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) that “mainly consists of the island’s most fertile paddy fields.”

Soldiers seized 12 kilometers of the main A-32 road in Mannar district, one of the LTTE’s main supply routes, the ministry cited Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a spokesman, as saying. The LTTE hasn’t commented on the fighting.

The LTTE lost the eastern region to the army a year ago in its worst defeat in its 25-year fight for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s north and east. The military has targeted Tamil Tiger leaders since then, killing the group’s political chief, its military intelligence leader and the head of the naval unit, known as the Sea Tigers.

Army units are now “poised and in striking distance” of the LTTE’s coastal stronghold of Veddithalthivu after capturing a 13-kilometer stretch of the coast in Mannar district, the Defense Ministry said in its statement today.

The Mannar area produced a record rice harvest in 1991, according to the Defense Ministry. It is now ranked 23rd out of 27 rice-growing areas in Sri Lanka listed by the government’s Census and Statistics Department in the capital, Colombo. The liberation of the fields will allow production to increase substantially, the department said.

Air, Ground Attacks

Sri Lanka’s military is staging almost daily air and ground assaults on the LTTE’s northern bases. The LTTE said in March the offensives amount to genocide and accused the air force of dropping bombs in civilian areas.

The government said in December that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was hurt in an air raid on the group’s headquarters at Kilinochchi in the north. S.P. Thamilchelvan, head of the political wing, died in a Nov. 2 air raid near Kilinochchi and the military intelligence chief was killed Jan. 6.

The LTTE’s last weapons-smuggling vessel was destroyed in October, a month after the commander of the rebel navy unit was killed, according to the military.

Truce Ends

President Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s government formally ended a 2002 cease-fire in January. Rajapaksa said last week he is prepared to negotiate with the rebels if they give up their armed struggle.

Prabhakaran said last November it was “political naivety” to expect a peace deal with the government, which he accused of waging a genocidal war.

Any peace process must be based on a homeland for the Tamil people, in the same way the ethnic-Albanian majority in the former Serbian province of Kosovo gained independence, the Tamil Tigers said last September. Tamils make up 11.9 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people, according to the 2001 census.

The LTTE, designated a terrorist group by India, the U.S. and European Union, has about 7,000 fighters operating in the north. It was the first group to use female suicide bombers and develop explosive belts and vests, the U.S. Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism said in a 2006 report.

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Sri Lanka said the army cut a main supply route for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam when soldiers captured Mannar’s rice-producing area in the latest blow to rebels holding onto their last bases in the north.

“Advancing security forces took control over the entire Mannar `rice bowl’ area” yesterday, the Defense Ministry said in a statement early today. Soldiers captured 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) that “mainly consists of the island’s most fertile paddy fields.”

Soldiers seized 12 kilometers of the main A-32 road in Mannar district, one of the LTTE’s main supply routes, the ministry cited Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a spokesman, as saying. The LTTE hasn’t commented on the fighting.

The LTTE lost the eastern region to the army a year ago in its worst defeat in its 25-year fight for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s north and east. The military has targeted Tamil Tiger leaders since then, killing the group’s political chief, its military intelligence leader and the head of the naval unit, known as the Sea Tigers.

Army units are now “poised and in striking distance” of the LTTE’s coastal stronghold of Veddithalthivu after capturing a 13-kilometer stretch of the coast in Mannar district, the Defense Ministry said in its statement today.

The Mannar area produced a record rice harvest in 1991, according to the Defense Ministry. It is now ranked 23rd out of 27 rice-growing areas in Sri Lanka listed by the government’s Census and Statistics Department in the capital, Colombo. The liberation of the fields will allow production to increase substantially, the department said.

Air, Ground Attacks

Sri Lanka’s military is staging almost daily air and ground assaults on the LTTE’s northern bases. The LTTE said in March the offensives amount to genocide and accused the air force of dropping bombs in civilian areas.

The government said in December that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was hurt in an air raid on the group’s headquarters at Kilinochchi in the north. S.P. Thamilchelvan, head of the political wing, died in a Nov. 2 air raid near Kilinochchi and the military intelligence chief was killed Jan. 6.

The LTTE’s last weapons-smuggling vessel was destroyed in October, a month after the commander of the rebel navy unit was killed, according to the military.

Truce Ends

President Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s government formally ended a 2002 cease-fire in January. Rajapaksa said last week he is prepared to negotiate with the rebels if they give up their armed struggle.

Prabhakaran said last November it was “political naivety” to expect a peace deal with the government, which he accused of waging a genocidal war.

Any peace process must be based on a homeland for the Tamil people, in the same way the ethnic-Albanian majority in the former Serbian province of Kosovo gained independence, the Tamil Tigers said last September. Tamils make up 11.9 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people, according to the 2001 census.

The LTTE, designated a terrorist group by India, the U.S. and European Union, has about 7,000 fighters operating in the north. It was the first group to use female suicide bombers and develop explosive belts and vests, the U.S. Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism said in a 2006 report.

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Sri Lanka said the army cut a main supply route for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam when soldiers captured Mannar’s rice-producing area in the latest blow to rebels holding onto their last bases in the north.

“Advancing security forces took control over the entire Mannar `rice bowl’ area” yesterday, the Defense Ministry said in a statement early today. Soldiers captured 120 square kilometers (46 square miles) that “mainly consists of the island’s most fertile paddy fields.”

Soldiers seized 12 kilometers of the main A-32 road in Mannar district, one of the LTTE’s main supply routes, the ministry cited Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a spokesman, as saying. The LTTE hasn’t commented on the fighting.

The LTTE lost the eastern region to the army a year ago in its worst defeat in its 25-year fight for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka’s north and east. The military has targeted Tamil Tiger leaders since then, killing the group’s political chief, its military intelligence leader and the head of the naval unit, known as the Sea Tigers.

Army units are now “poised and in striking distance” of the LTTE’s coastal stronghold of Veddithalthivu after capturing a 13-kilometer stretch of the coast in Mannar district, the Defense Ministry said in its statement today.

The Mannar area produced a record rice harvest in 1991, according to the Defense Ministry. It is now ranked 23rd out of 27 rice-growing areas in Sri Lanka listed by the government’s Census and Statistics Department in the capital, Colombo. The liberation of the fields will allow production to increase substantially, the department said.

Air, Ground Attacks

Sri Lanka’s military is staging almost daily air and ground assaults on the LTTE’s northern bases. The LTTE said in March the offensives amount to genocide and accused the air force of dropping bombs in civilian areas.

The government said in December that LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was hurt in an air raid on the group’s headquarters at Kilinochchi in the north. S.P. Thamilchelvan, head of the political wing, died in a Nov. 2 air raid near Kilinochchi and the military intelligence chief was killed Jan. 6.

The LTTE’s last weapons-smuggling vessel was destroyed in October, a month after the commander of the rebel navy unit was killed, according to the military.

Truce Ends

President Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s government formally ended a 2002 cease-fire in January. Rajapaksa said last week he is prepared to negotiate with the rebels if they give up their armed struggle.

Prabhakaran said last November it was “political naivety” to expect a peace deal with the government, which he accused of waging a genocidal war.

Any peace process must be based on a homeland for the Tamil people, in the same way the ethnic-Albanian majority in the former Serbian province of Kosovo gained independence, the Tamil Tigers said last September. Tamils make up 11.9 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people, according to the 2001 census.

The LTTE, designated a terrorist group by India, the U.S. and European Union, has about 7,000 fighters operating in the north. It was the first group to use female suicide bombers and develop explosive belts and vests, the U.S. Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism said in a 2006 report.

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India is to send thousands of troops, war ships and helicopters to Sri Lanka as part of security for next month’s South Asian summit in Colombo, diplomatic sources said Sunday.

New Delhi is planning to send three war ships with a combined force of up to 3,000 security personnel because of fears that Tamil Tiger rebels could stage land, sea or air attacks, diplomats and officials said.

“Given the security situation in Colombo, it is important for India to address all possibilities because the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) will be attending,” a top diplomatic source said.

He said war ships with helicopters will be anchored off Sri Lanka’s coast in case the island’s only international airport was forced to shut.

The airport has been attacked several times by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Sri Lanka has closed its air space and diverted regular commercial flights to neighbouring India and the Maldives when the Tigers flew their light aircraft on bombing missions in Colombo and elsewhere.

The Tigers also operate a fleet of speed boats and have staged attacks against Sri Lankan ports.

Diplomats said security arrangements for the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit were discussed nine days ago between Colombo and New Delhi and an agreement reached.

There was no formal word from the Sri Lankan authorities about the Indian security cover for the summit, which will gather leaders from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Many roads in the capital are closed and access limited to authorised vehicles amid fears of attacks by the Tamil Tigers, who are fighting for an independent homeland for the island’s Tamil minority concentrated in the northeast.

Security forces are locked in combat with the Tigers in the north. A daily death toll is reported from the area and fighting has escalated since Colombo pulled out of a Norwegian-arranged truce in January.

(AFP)

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Sri Lankan security forces kept up an offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels, killing at least 30 guerrillas for the loss of two soldiers, the defence ministry said Monday.

Troops shot dead 30 rebels in the districts of Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu on Sunday, the ministry said, adding another 34 were wounded.

Security forces suffered two soldiers killed and 13 wounded, the ministry said.

There was no immediate word from the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam on the latest violence.

The defence ministry’s claim takes the number of rebels reported killed by government troops since the beginning of the year to 4,616, against the loss of 420 soldiers.

Government figures cannot be independently verified as journalists are barred from visiting frontline areas.

Sri Lanka has suffered from a bitter and bloody ethnic conflict for more than three decades. The rebels say they are fighting for an independent homeland for minority Tamils.

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Vows to capture sea supply base in Mannar soon

The military yesterday said the strategically important area in the Mannar District, known as ‘rice bowl’ comprising an area of 120 square kilometers was completely brought under its control.

“The area called ‘rice bowl’ or the entire green patch in the district had been brought under full military control by yesterday after months of fighting”, military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara told the Daily Mirror yesterday. The area is called the ‘rice bowl due to the large tracts of paddy fields in the area which yielded the biggest paddy harvest in the country in 1991.

Brig. Nanayakkara said the military commenced its operation to capture Mannar district in September 2007 and so far had killed over 2,100 LTTE cadres and injured over 1,500 cadres. The number of military casualties was not available at the time this edition went to press.

“Losing the ‘rice bowl’ area is a major set back for the LTTE and for the military it is a major achievement as troops are nearing the end of their objective to capture the entire district soon including the Vidaththaltivu area, which is the Tigers’ sea supply base”, the spokesman said.

He also said the military had to face many difficulties when capturing this area as the Tigers had massive and strong defence lines in the area.

The liberated area comprises 150 small reservoirs fed by the Yoda Wewa.

The Army’s 58 Division had carried out the operation to capture this area, consisting Parappakandal, Giant Tank, Alampil, Parappakadattan, Andankulam, Palakkuli, Palampiddi, Periyamadu, Andankulam and Adampan areas, including several and large Tiger bases.

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Vows to capture sea supply base in Mannar soon

The military yesterday said the strategically important area in the Mannar District, known as ‘rice bowl’ comprising an area of 120 square kilometers was completely brought under its control.

“The area called ‘rice bowl’ or the entire green patch in the district had been brought under full military control by yesterday after months of fighting”, military spokesman Udaya Nanayakkara told the Daily Mirror yesterday. The area is called the ‘rice bowl due to the large tracts of paddy fields in the area which yielded the biggest paddy harvest in the country in 1991.

Brig. Nanayakkara said the military commenced its operation to capture Mannar district in September 2007 and so far had killed over 2,100 LTTE cadres and injured over 1,500 cadres. The number of military casualties was not available at the time this edition went to press.

“Losing the ‘rice bowl’ area is a major set back for the LTTE and for the military it is a major achievement as troops are nearing the end of their objective to capture the entire district soon including the Vidaththaltivu area, which is the Tigers’ sea supply base”, the spokesman said.

He also said the military had to face many difficulties when capturing this area as the Tigers had massive and strong defence lines in the area.

The liberated area comprises 150 small reservoirs fed by the Yoda Wewa.

The Army’s 58 Division had carried out the operation to capture this area, consisting Parappakandal, Giant Tank, Alampil, Parappakadattan, Andankulam, Palakkuli, Palampiddi, Periyamadu, Andankulam and Adampan areas, including several and large Tiger bases.

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Jaffna police has recovered twenty rounds of T56 ammunitions and a hand grenade from a vehicle which belongs to the Jaffna branch of the Human Rights Commission

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Is China doing a Myanmar in Sri Lanka by capitalising on the policy of President Mahinda Rajapaksa of diversifying Sri Lanka’s geo-political options even while professing close friendship with India?

That seems to have been one of the concerns of the Government of India, which prompted a two-day visit to Sri Lanka by a team of senior advisers of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh consisting of Shri M. K. Narayanan, the National Security Adviser, Shri Shivsankar Menon, the Foreign Secretary, and Shri Vijay Singh, the Defence Secretary, on June 20 and 21, 2008, for talks with Mr. Rajapaksa and senior Sri Lankan officials and important Tamil leaders.

Officially, the visit was projected as a return visit to reciprocate a similar high-level visit to New Delhi in September last by a Sri Lankan delegation headed by Mr. Gothbaya Rajapaksa, the Defence Secretary, and as a preparatory visit before the forthcoming 15th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) to be held at Colombo from July 27 to August 3, 2008.

Another purpose seems to have been to assess the implications to India of Mr. Rajapaksa’s policy of bringing in other external state actors into Sri Lanka in order to give Sri Lanka a more geo-political wriggle room. In the past, India had to worry only about China, Pakistan and the US. Now, Mr. Rajapaksa has started courting Iran, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. Iran has started playing an important role in the oil refining sector and it is only a question of time before it starts demanding a role in the retail sale of oil, a sector in which the Indian Oil Corporation presently has a pre-eminent role. To counter the fears of the US and the Sunni Arab states over his flirting with Iran, he has also been trying to bring in Saudi Arabia in the oil sector. Malaysia emerged last year as the largest foreign investor in Sri Lanka.  As a result of his moves, India is likely to find its political and economic influence in Sri Lanka gradually shrinking.

In view of India’s  improving relations with the US, it is not concerned as it would have been in the past over the increasing US activities in Sri Lanka and the increasing interest of the US Pacific Command in Sri Lanka. Presently, India is not highly concerned with the growing economic ties between Sri Lanka and Malaysia either. It can live with it.

What India is concerned is over the increasing activities of China and Pakistan, the entry of Iran and the expected entry of Saudi Arabia into Sri Lanka. While Pakistan’s relations with Sri Lanka are largely focussed on military supplies and training, China’s relations have greater strategic implications for India—-covering military supplies and training, the construction of a modern port at Hambantota in the South and oil exploration in the Mannar area.  The action of the Government of Myanmar in allowing the Chinese to have a semi-permanent presence in the Coco Islands brought the Chinese within monitoring distance of India’s space establishments on the Eastern coast. The semi-permanent presence, which the Chinese are now getting in Sri Lanka, will bring them within monitoring distance of India’s fast-breeder reactor complex at Kalpakam near Chennai, the Russian-aided Koodankulam nuclear power reactor complex in southern Tamil Nadu and India’s space establishments in Kerala.

Reporting on the visit of the senior Indian officials to Colombo, the “Times of India” of June 23, 2008, quoted an unnamed senior Indian official in New Delhi as stating as follows: “The story of Myanmar is being repeated in Sri Lanka. China is already all over the island nation, with a flurry of arms deals, oil exploration and construction projects like the Hambantota port.”

The “Times of India” also reported as follows: “Colombo has signed a US $ 37.6 million deal with the Beijing-based Poly Technologies for a wide variety of arms, ammunition, mortars and bombs. Sri Lanka is also getting some Chinese Jian-7 fighters, JY 11-3D air surveillance radars, armoured personnel carriers, T-56 assault rifles ( a copy of AK-47), machine guns and anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and missiles.”

The work on the Hambantota port is progressing fast with typical Chinese efficiency. Sri Lankan sources assert that it will be only a commercial port and not a potential naval base. One has to wait and see.

The first phase of construction, which was started in October, 2007, is estimated to cost US $450 million. The bunkering terminal, which   is expected to be completed in 39 months, provides for the terminal to handle up to 500,000 metric tonnes (mt) of oil products a year.

The “Daily News” of Sri Lanka reported on June 19, 2008, as follows: ‘ A project proposal sent by the China Huanqiu Contracting and Engineering Corporation for building the bunkering facility and tank farm at the Hambantota harbour has been approved by the project committee and the cabinet-appointed negotiations committee.  “The total value of the project would be $76.5 million and it would be completed by 2010.A set of fuel tanks, bunkering facilities, aviation fuel storage facilities and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) storage facilities will be built under  the project at Hambantota, about 230 km south of Colombo. The media has also reported that although the Hambantota port was initially planned as a service and industrial port, it is expected to be developed as a trans-shipment port at a later stage to handle 20 million containers per year.

Foreign oil companies have not so far been enthusiastic over the prospects of finding oil/gas in exploitable quantities in the Mannar area. Earlier this year, the Sri Lankan Government invited bids for three blocks. Of these, block No 1, which extends over an area of 3,338.10 square kilometers and is nearest to India, received bids from ONGC Videsh, Cairn India, and Niko Resources of Cyprus. ONGC Videsh is a subsidiary of the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation of India.Cairn India, is 69 per cent owned by Cairn Energy of London, which has been active in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.Canada-based Niko Resources is active in Canada, India and Bangladesh. None of these blocks received any bid from China. The Sri Lankan Government announced on June 6, 2008, that after evaluation it has decided to accept the bid of Cairn India for block No. 1 and invited it to send its representatives to Colombo for negotiations. Fresh bids are to be invited for the other two blocks. The rules stipulate that for each block there should be a minimum of three bids before evaluation.

In response to an invitation issued by President  Rajapaksa  during his visit  to Teheran in November, 2007. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad of Iran paid a two-day official visit to Sri Lanka on April 28 and 29, 2008.Since last year, Sri Lanka has been facing economic difficulties due to the drying-up of economic assistance from countries of the European Union (EU) such as Germany because of what they perceive as the indifferent attitude of the Rajapaksa Government to complaints regarding the violation of the human rights of the Tamils and its refusal to seek a political solution to the problem.  Instead of succumbing to the EU pressure on the subject, the Rajapaksa Government turned for increased assistance to other countries such as China and Iran, which did not raise human rights issues as a condition for such assistance. Assistance from Iran was of crucial importance to Sri Lanka because of the Government’s inability to pay for its increasingly costly oil imports.

The Government of Ahmadinejad readily agreed to provide oil  at concessional rates to Sri Lanka and to train a small team of officers of the Sri Lankan Army and intelligence in Iran. It also agreed to provide a low-interest loan to Sri Lanka to enable it to purchase defence-related equipment from China and Pakistan. In addition, it agreed to invest US $ 1.5 billion in energy-related projects in Sri Lanka.

One of these projects is for the production of hydro power and the other to double the capacity of an existing oil refinery in Sri Lanka. Work on the construction of the hydel project started during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit. Iranian engineers have already been preparing the project report for doubling the capacity of the refinery and for modifying it to enable it to refine in future Iranian crude to be supplied at concessional rates. The existing capacity is 50,000 barrels a day.

Mr. Fowzie, Sri Lanka’s Minister for Petroleum and Petroleum Resources Development, visited Riyadh in Saudi Arabia towards the end of March,2008. He announced at Riyadh on March 23, 2008, that Saudi Arabia had agreed to train Sri Lankans in the field of exploration and refining of oil in the island.  Sri Lanka presently gets 70 per cent of its oil from Iran, 10 per cent from Saudi Arabia and 20 per cent from Malaysia and other countries.

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