5th March 2000
The spectre of Black Tiger guerrilla suicide cadre attacks on security forces officials and economic targets continues to pre occupy security authorities.
Not surprisingly after the confessions of Selvathurai Anton Mario alias Jahn of Jaffna, revealed exclusively in these columns last week. A trained Black Tiger suicide cadre, he was arrested by the Kollupitiya Police and later handed over to the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Police.
He told TID interrogators that six other Black Tigers had completed training together with him. He believes they had left Wanni for the City to undertake suicide missions.
It is in this backdrop that the Special Task Force (STF), the commando arm of the Police, intercepted an LTTE radio message. One base in the east was talking to another about a courier arriving in Negombo with a parcel of explosives. He was to hand it over to an accomplice who would be waiting at the bus station.
They alerted Police in Negombo. Plainclothesmen were deployed for days in the Negombo bus station and other public areas. They moved around without raising suspicions. On February 23, some of these men saw a young man in the bus station area walking away with a parcel.
A check revealed that he was one of the men the Police were after. The courier, however, had made good his escape. Police found that the parcel of explosives were in three slabs, each containing ball bearings. There was also a detonator cord switch. Police said the slabs came in readymade to be inserted into suicide jackets.
The young man who allegedly carried the parcel had been identified as Chandrakumar Pushparaja alias Chutti, a resident of Batticaloa. Since January 1998, he had been employed in a pharmacy in Negombo and had lived in Kochchikade. Pushparajah told Police that he took charge of the parcel containing the explosives from the courier and was on his way to a communications agency to make a telephone call to Batticaloa. He had the phone number and was to confirm to a hitherto unidentified person of the receipt of the parcel. He had claimed he did not know the identity of the courier.
Police have found the explosives were meant to be used by a suicide cadre to attack a "liberty bus" that operates daily from the Sri Lanka Air Force base at Katunayake to Army Headquarters in Colombo. With repairs to the runway at the SLAF base in Ratmalana still being carried out, troop movements to the north are from Katunayake. The suicide bomber was to intercept the bus at Periyamulla junction.
If this detection averted what would otherwise have been carnage on the Negombo-Colombo road, a suicide bomber made an abortive attempt on the life of Col. Piyal Abeysekera, Commander, 221 Brigade in Trincomalee. He was travelling along the Inner Harbour Road when the female suicide bomber flung herself to his vehicle. His driver, who was badly injured, died upon admission to hospital.
Police investigations revealed that the female suicide bomber, identified as Sathiyawani, was a resident of Kattaiparichan near Mutur. She had been a Black Tiger cadre and had undergone training four years ago. For over three years, she lay "dormant" working as an employee in a co-operative store in Trincomalee. Last Wednesday, Tiger leadership had tasked her to take on an "opportunity" target – some top security forces official who may drive along that road. It turned out to be Col. Abeysekera's vehicle.
This is the fourth incident, this year, involving a suicide bomber. As reported in these columns, since February, 1998, when a female suicide bomber exploded herself outside the Air Force Headquarters at Slave Island, for nearly twenty months there has been no incidents involving suicide cadres. It resumed on December 18, last year, with two major incidents, one at the Town Hall Grounds where President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga escaped death miraculously. The other was at a UNP rally in Ja-ela that killed a one time Sri Lanka Army Chief of Staff and retired Major General Lucky Algama.
Ongoing CID investigations into the attack at the Ja-ela meeting have revealed that the attack was carried out by Yasodharan, a 21 year old youth from Urumpirai, Jaffna. His severed head was reportedly identified by his mother, S. Valarmathy, sister Priya and brother Vinod. The arrest of these students sparked off a three day protest by university and other students in Jaffna. The mother and the two children were flown to Colombo for the identification after detectives learnt of Yasodharan's identity. The mother is learnt to have told Police that she lost contact with her son in 1995 and had not heard of him since then.
Third suicide incident involving a suicide bomber was on January 5, 2000. A female suicide bomber exploded herself outside the Prime Minister's office at Flower Road killing six policemen and seven civilians. A further nine policemen and a civilian were injured.
It is not only attacks on VIPs, security forces and Police top brass that the LTTE is focusing on. Intelligence authorities have learnt that a batch of LTTE cadres have been trained in a camp in Kokkadicholai, near Batticaloa, to use Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to attack economic and other targets. This is being carried out by Vincent Master, described as a man very conversant in the use of explosives. He had trained nearly twenty cadres and assigned them to attack buses, trains, telecommunication installations and electricity transformers.
The chance arrest by Police last month of a youth at Karativu gave them an insight into Vincent Master's activities. Identified as Y. W. Lingarasa, the youth carrried a stock of explosives under his socks. They also contained wires and the triggering mechanism. Suspicions were aroused by the manner in which Lingarasa had walked towards the checkpoint. he had confessed he was trained by Vincent Master. The same confession had also been made by P. Kandasamy, a resident of Batticaloa, after he was arrested by the Bibile Police following bomb explosions in two buses on February 7.
A bomb inside one bus exploded whilst it lay parked at the Bibile Police Station. Another inside a bus proceeding from Bibile to Moneragala exploded killing one civilian passenger and wounding 53 others. Since January 30, bomb explosions in buses had killed three civilians and injured 161 others. Similarly, on January 27 five civilians were among 11 killed when a bomb exploded at the Vavuniya Post Office. Others killed were five soldiers and a policeman. There were 73 others injured, all of them civilians except 13 soldiers and eight policemen.
Although the intelligence community in Colombo has received reports that the LTTE this week ordered a halt to civilian targets, there is still confusion whether this was a red herring. This is particularly in view of a number of developments in LTTE dominated Wanni.
An intensified LTTE recruitment drive has got under way not only in Wanni but also in the Jaffna peninsula and the east. As part of the drive in the Wanni, Political Wing leader, Thamil Chelvam, has been addressing a string of meetings where senior Military Wing leaders have been among the speakers. The thrust of the speeches made at these meetings has been to emphasise that the current year is the Year of War and to appeal to parents to "sacrifice" at least one member of the family to the "movement." Speakers had also made it clear that the LTTE would "carry the war" to areas outside the north and east in the Year of War in a bid to create what they call greater awareness of their struggle in the south. Reports of house to house recruitment in Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts have also reached the Police.
Whilst ensuring that the security forces and the Police counter the newer threats posed by the LTTE, the security has been busy with a number of other measures. As revealed in these columns, they have given a series of presentations before President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on their future plans and also on the need to procure more military hardware for their efforts. The latter is largely prompted by losses the security forces have faced during attacks, particularly last November's in the Wanni.
Already Government and military officials have talked to two different delegations that were in Colombo, one from Pakistan and the other from China. Procurements from the United States and United Kingdom are also on the pipeline.
Last Thursday, the Ministry of Defence also granted extended terms to officers of the Army and Navy. In the case of the Army, three senior officers – Major General Lionel Balagalle, Chief of Staff, Major General Janaka Perera, Deputy Chief of Staff and Major General Neil Dias, Commander, Security Forces, Wanni have had their terms extended to serve until they reach the age of retirement at 55. If the extensions were not granted, their retirements would have taken effect from April 15, this year. They will now have to retire on their next birthdays unless further extensions are given.
In the Navy, the number two and three in the line of command, Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Daya Sandagiri and Rear Admiral Terrance Sunderam, were to have retired upon reaching their maximum in the rank on March 8, this year. On Thursday, the Ministry of Defence informed Navy Headquarters and the two officers concerned that they could continue to service "until further orders." Highly placed security sources say the move is a prelude to other significant changes that are expected in the coming months.
Another important area where the attention of the Ministry of Defence is being focused is the now forgotten military debacles in the Wanni in December, last year. In the next week or two, the MOD is to take action against those who are responsible for the lapses that led to the incidents.
A three member Military Court of Inquiry headed by the Army's Chief of Staff, Major General Lionel Balagalle, headed the Court which comprised Rear Admiral Daya Sandagiri (Chief of Staff, Sri Lanka Navy) and Air Vice Marshal Donald Perera, has already reported its findings to the MOD through the Army Commander.
The Sunday Times learns that a copy of the findings, which was received by Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva, is now being closely studied and legal opinion consulted on some of the important aspects of the findings.
According to authoritative MOD sources, one senior Army official has come under very strong censure by the Military Court
"He faces deterrent disciplinary action," one source said. Two other officers have also come under censure, though the severity of the findings against him are less than the senior official in question.
The declaration of Year of
War by the LTTE and the continuing offensive through small bombings against military and economic targets questions the sincerity of negotiations with the Government. In this regard, the LTTE are placed in a difficult situation to refuse any peace overtures by interested third parties either as facilitators or mediators.
A straightforward refusal would alienate the sympathy of the intervening parties towards the Tamil refugees in the Western democracies who are contributing heavily towards the LTTE coffers. These refugees are already under pressure in their host countries. Should the LTTE not toe the line, these refugees will come under greater pressure.
This will be inimical to the LTTE, both financially and in maintaining international support to their cause. These factors notwithstanding, the LTTE, both in their military and political strategies have always had multi faceted options. In the current situation, it is no different whereas on the one had they make noises of their preparedness to talk. On the other hand, they are strengthening their military infrastructure which runs counter to any peace intentions.
It only fortifies the "Heroes" Day (Maveerar) speech by LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, that they (the Tiger guerrillas) will not stop at nothing short of Eelam, their separate state.
The much voiced negotiations option by the Government also smacks of military consolidation whilst pronouncing intentions of seeking a peaceful solution.
These two positions clearly indicate that neither side trusts the other in the sincerity of the intention to talk peace.
In these circumstances what is required, more than third party facilitation, is a confidence building programme between the various communities.
This should necessarily be preceded by a confidence building programme amongst the political parties. It all comes to square one.
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