2nd September 2001
Diminishing peace hopes and mounting Tiger threats
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|The uneasy calm
around the Central Camp Police Station, some 30 kilometres north of Ampara
was disturbed by gunfire last Tuesday night. Policemen guarding the area
fired volley after volley at positions ahead of them. Tiger guerrillas
had launched another attack or so they thought.
Reports that mortar and small arms fire was being directed at the Central Camp area that night caused panic. It was just seven days earlier that the guerrillas over ran the Central Camp Police Station and removed weapons including those in the armoury.
Police Chief, Lucky Kodituwakku, was at President's House when he was told of another attack being mounted on Central Camp. He immediately told President Kumaratunga and Defence Secretary Chan-drananda de Silva, with whom he was busy on some official business. Attention immediately shifted to the Central Camp. Defence Secretary, Mr. de Silva, reached out to a phone and began dishing out orders.
The Commander of the Army Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle was directed to immediately rush troops to the area. He in turn contacted Air Force Commander Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody to arrange for a helicopter.
A platoon of soldiers, who were part of a group undergoing re-training, were immediately airlifted in the night from Hingurakgoda to the Central Camp. Needless to say it was a high risk troop movement by helicopter that night, since the guerrillas now possessed larger quantities of Surface to Air Missiles.
That very night, two more platoons were forced to interrupt their re-training and travel by road to the Central Camp, where the responsibility of security is vested in the hands of the Police and the Special Task Force.
Tiger guerrillas preparing for fresh attacks
It was only much after the crisis management measures were set in motion from the President's House did Police Chief Kodituwakku receive more news.
There was no cause for alarm. There was no attack on the Central Camp after all. Confirmation had come to none other than Commandant of the Special Task Force (STF), DIG Nimal Gunatilaka, from his men on the spot.
Police deployed in the area had opened fire evidently in panic.
Did they see a shadow or branches of trees moving ? Or was it stray dogs causing a commotion ? What caused it may never be known. But it became abundantly clear there was no Tiger guerrilla attack.
Mr. Kodituwakku accordingly informed President Kumaratunga and Defence Secretary, Mr. de Silva. But it was decided that the emergency Army deployment should not be interrupted. Four days later, only a part of the Army personnel have returned to their re-training programmes. Others are still in the Central Camp area beefing up the security of the Police and the STF should there be another guerrilla attack.
Pakistan's Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Abdul Aziz Miraza presents a memento to the Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, when he called on him this week. Admiral Miraza is on a goodwill visit to Sri Lanka.
The sequence of events on Tuesday night underscore the predicament of the security establishment in the wake of threats of guerrilla attacks, real and otherwise. This week also saw another warning that guerrillas planned to mount a major attack on the Weli Oya sector. Military Intelligence and Army officials in the area conducted a thorough check on the information and also intensified security precautions by inducting more troops. It later turned out that the information had come from a retired Army official now serving in the Ministry of Defence. His previous tip offs, it had later turned out, were not quite accurate.
But the new, heightened level of response to any rebel threat, is the direct result of the July 24 Black Tiger attack on the country's main Air Force Base at Katunayake and the adjoining Banda-ranaike International Airport. As one top security official, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, declared "no one wants to take the flap now for any lapses or shortcomings."
More so in the backdrop of recent attacks including the one on the Central Camp Police Station on August 21. I revealed in these columns last week the contention of the Directorate of Internal Intelligence that there was advance warning to the authorities in Ampara about an impending attack on the Central Camp Police Station.
I said Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku received a strongly worded letter from the Additional Director General of Internal Intelligence, T.V. Sumanasekera, a former DIG (CID). He asserted that sufficient information that the Central Camp Police Station was targeted by the LTTE, was appropriately disseminated.
He asked for a full investigation to ascertain why no precautionary measures were taken to protect the Central Camp Police Station despite specific intelligence warnings.
One specific instance raised by the DII relates to Inspector U.K. Marambe, of their Unit in Ampara, telling a conference of Officers-in-charge of Police Stations in the Ampara district, Army, Air Force and Special Task Force representatives, of specific information that Tiger guerrillas had planned to attack the Central Camp Police Station.
He had said a group of 30 guerrillas from Mandur had come towards the Central Camp and were hiding at a secret location.
Some civilians living in the neighbouring 11th Colony had provided information for the group to formulate an attack plan.
The Sunday Times Situation Report which revealed the DII note was the subject of discussion when Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku presided at his weekly meeting with DIGs last Monday at Police Headquarters. More attention was focused on how The Sunday Times received the DII report with Additional Director General, DII, Mr. Sumanasekera, being directed to probe the matter.
Last week's Situation Report highlighted the Directorate of Internal Intelligence warning in the public interest. The Black Tiger attacks on the SLAF Base and the International Airport at Katunayake has already generated a great deal of public controversy over the efficacy of the nation's intelligence system. So much so intelligence failure is being touted as the main reason for the attack, though not correctly. That attack itself has had an adverse impact on every citizen of Sri Lanka. Here is the case of the DII, the nation's premier internal intelligence agency saying it issued a specific warning that the Central Camp Police Station was to be attacked – a matter of great public interest since billions of rupees of the tax payer's money had been poured, and is still being poured, into the 19 year long separatist war.
Affable Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku was keen to make it clear to The Sunday Times that he personally did not have any advance information about an attack on the Central Camp Police Station, though there was no such reference in these columns last week.
Mr. Kodituwakku told The Sunday Times "I have ordered a full investigation into the DII complaint that purported intelligence about an attack on the Central Camp Police Station has been disseminated earlier."
He said he would await the outcome before determining other action.
The Police's Chief's assertions come in the wake of claims by Senior Superintendent of Police, Ampara Bandula Wijesinghe that he had not received any intelligence warnings from the DII. However, DII sources insist they have conclusive documentary evidence to confirm that such a warning was in fact issued.
Intelligence warnings, or the lack of it, have become the subject of serious concern at the highest levels of the Government. Needless to say the veracity of warnings sent by several state intelligence agencies has also begun to pose problems for Government's top rung intelligence advisors.
As revealed in these columns, on June 27 the Special Branch reported to Police Chief Kodituwakku, under whose purview it functions, that the LTTE planned to seize the Jaffna town during the first two weeks of July. Details of the attack were given.
The move prompted Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickre-manayake, in the absence of President Kumaratunga, to order aerial attacks on guerrilla targets. The Sri Lanka Air Force conducted a string of aerial sorties beginning June 30.
The guerrilla retaliation came on July 24 when they attacked the airbase and the international airport prompting a top level intelligence investigation to ascertain whether any guerrilla disinformation campaign led to this warning.
And this week intelligence top brass reacted very cautiously to another Special Branch warning that Tiger guerrillas now planned to re-capture Jaffna on or before September 26. The date coincides with the death anniversary of Thileepan, an LTTE top runger who died on a death fast demanding the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) from the north and east.
The Special Branch reported that the attack was being planned by the LTTE to keep their promise to the people and there was a heavy build up of LTTE cadres including the "Charles Anthony Brigade" led by Theepan and a women's group led by Medusha. This is in addition to another large group headed by Gadaffi. For obvious reasons one cannot spell out details given by the Special Branch. The Special Branch has also warned of an attack on the Air Force Fire Unit in the City though why this unit alone became the target is not clear.
The news of a warning of an attack on Jaffna comes in the backdrop of LTTE stepping up violence in the east as revealed in these columns last week. The LTTE is also known to be continuing its weapons build up.
Last week the security forces were warned of attempts by the LTTE to smuggle in a consignment of weapons from an Asian country before August 25. In the wake of this warning, Naval craft engaged Sea Tiger boats in a confrontation early this week. There are fears that the LTTE succeeded in smuggling in a weapons shipment though what it contained is not known.
An incident in Jaffna also caused concern for the security authorities. Naval craft yesterday were enforcing a check on fishing in waters off Thondamannar. This was after complaints that fishermen did not adhere to restricted fishing hours or limits on distances. There were fears that non-observance posed threats not only to Naval craft but also to aircraft taking off or landing at Palaly airbase. Some flights had been delayed since fishing craft had remained in the area beyond permitted hours.
Navy patrols yesterday rounded up a fleet of fishing boats which were violating the time limits or exceeding demarcated areas. When they neared the Point Pedro jetty, just when Navy personnel were trying to examine a boat, there was a loud explosion.
A suspected guerrilla cadre blew himself up. The boat was a wreck. At least three fishermen were injured. Naval authorities say the boat may have contained explosives. They are also suspicious whether the boat carried a Surface to Air Missile to attack an Air Force aircraft. Navy divers were engaged yesterday to comb the sea bed for any trace of a missile. In the meanwhile Navy is to now completely ban fishing in the area.
In the wake of these developments security forces and Police have been placed on a higher level of alert. Contributing to this move in large measure are remarks LTTE's chief negotiator and advisor Anton Balasingham made to Tamilnet on Thursday. He declared that the LTTE "is not prepared to enter into negotiation with a corrupt, inefficient, unstable government which does not have a majority in Parliament."
His response came even before the Government made a fresh appeal for talks with the guerrillas after halting offensive military operations. Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar admitted such a move was under consideration by the Government when he addressed a news conference where ministers gave the Government's story for the breakdown in talks with the main opposition United National Party.
Mr. Kadirgamar said the Government regretted the UNP had not agreed to a joint Government-Opposition appeal to the LTTE to come for talks after halting hostilities.
Dr. Balasingham said "The government of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga rejected, on several occasions, our call for ceasefire and peace talks because of her misguided policy of militarism and conquest of Tamil lands." He added "as far as the LTTE is concerned, it is a ploy, an act of calculated political duplicity to divert the attention of the people and the world from the deepening crisis in Colombo."
The remarks made clear that the Norwegian peace initiatives are out, at least for the moment. That will turn the focus altogether to the battlefront since Dr. Balasingham has made it clear with the attack on the SLAF base and the international airport, the LTTE has now declared war.
The Sri Lanka Air Force probe into the attack has ended after over a month of sittings. The Court of Inquiry was headed by Air Vice Marshal E.V. Tennekoon, who is serving an extended term of service after date of retirement, as Chief Provost Marshal. Other members are Group Captain T.M.P.D. Tennekoon, Wing Commander Gagan Bulathsinhala, Wing Commander S. Rambukwella and Wing Commander D.M.S. Karunarathne.
The Court's terms of reference were:
To investigate and report on the nature of the terrorist attack.
To ascertain whether adequate defence arrangements had been made for the defence of the SLAF Base Katunayake and the BIA.
To ascertain whether there are any violation of order and instructions issued.
To ascertain the damages caused to SLAF aircraft, other equipment, arms and ammo and other SLAF properties due to the attack. The cost of the damage to be recorded in the following format: (a) Original purchase price (b) Appropriate or estimated cost at the time of loss (c) Replacement value or cost of repair (d) Net loss, inclusive of CIF.
To ascertain the damage caused to other organizations civilian properties.
To ascertain the service/civilian deaths occurred and injuries caused to service/civilian personnel due to attack.
To ascertain the details of the enemy killed, injured or captured and also arms and ammo and other items recovered from the enemy.
To allocate responsibility, if any.
To make any further findings deemed appropriate.
To make appropriate recommendations on the findings and to prevent recurrence.
The Court of Inquiry report was handed over to Air Force Commander Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody, early this week. Air Marshal Weerakkody is learnt to have placed the report at the National Security Council meeting on Friday. He is expected to make his recommendations on the findings to the Ministry of Defence in the coming week.
The Court of Inquiry report is said to run into over 1000 pages and contains the evidence of more than 280 witnesses. It is learnt to have made severe strictures on the Base Commander of the Katunayake Air Force Base, Air Commodore R.A. Ananda and at least 15 others. Charges include negligence and failure to follow orders.
The Sunday Times learns that at least two senior officers are likely to be compulsorily retired with no pension rights. Severe strictures are also to be made on at least one more senior officer.
Besides the Court of Inquiry, detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department are also now concluding their own investigations into the attacks on the airbase and the international airport.
They are due to hand over their report to Police Chief Lucky Kodituwakku, next week. The Sunday Times learns that at least 14 SLAF personnel have been named by CID investigators for being responsible for criminal negligence.
Whilst dealing with negligence and failure to follow orders by those responsible for the nation's worst disaster, the security establishment has a much bigger task before them in the coming weeks – making sure more guerrilla attacks do not bring greater shocks to an already shaken nation.
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