Naval craft move to high seas after midnight Tiger threat
Besides the Police, the security arms of the State
were also pre-occupied in the past weeks with matters relating to Wednesday's
Parliamentary general election.
Tigers on the shores of Chempiyanpattu (north). On the right, in striped
fatigues, is their leader, Soosai
The Army is on standby to support Police in maintaining law and order.
That is if a request is made by the latter. The Sri Lanka Air Force has
been coping with VIP transport, mostly from PA leaders, who have been shuttling
from one venue to another to address political rallies. Ballot papers were
airlifted to the north by it. Ferrying ballot boxes from remote areas after
polls close will also be a task for the Air Force.
For the Sri Lanka Navy, the tasks appear to be heavier. It has to escort
ships carrying hundreds of policemen assigned for polls duty. In the past
two weeks, Navy personnel have been called upon to secure three most important
State media institutions - the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, the Sri
Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and Lake House amidst fears that trade union
unrest would lead to disruption.
All this, in addition to maintaining a high level of vigilance in the
high seas, particularly in the north-east, to curb a continuing guerrilla
campaign towards a weapons build up.
It is in this backdrop that Navy Headquarters placed all Naval institutions
countrywide on a high state of alert on midnight Friday. Naval vessels
including Fast Attack Craft (FAC) and gunships were ordered to sail out
to the high seas from their bases, including those in Colombo, Trincomalee,
Karainagar, Kankesanturai, Kalpitiya, Tangalle and Galle. This followed
a warning that Sea Tigers planned attacks on either Naval establishments
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Fears of such an attack grew further yesterday after the guerrillas
launched a surprise assault on the Army Camp at Kattaparichchan, a Muslim
village located four kilometres south of Mutur in the Trincomalee district.
Just after crack of dawn, guerrillas attacked the camp, located in an abandoned
paddy storage complex, with mortars, rocket propelled grenades (RPG) and
40 mm grenades. After an hour long gun battle, the attack was repulsed.
Two soldiers were killed.
Military Spokesman Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne said he estimated at
least ten guerrillas were killed. He believes at least 60 to 80 guerrillas
took part in the attack led by guerrilla leader, Paduman. "When a mortar
fell into a civilian home, a father and his two year old child were killed,"
Brigadier Karun–aratne added.
The attack came despite forecasts by the intelligence community that
the guerrillas will not launch any major offensives. This was particularly
after two attacks in the run up to Wednesday's elections failed causing
concerns for the Tiger guerrilla leadership.
The first was an attempt by a suicide cadre to explode himself on October
29 at Thimbirigasyaya. It later transpired that the target was Prime Minister
Ratnasiri Wickremanayake who was due to attend an official function at
Narahenpita. Five persons-three civilians and two policemen were killed.
On October 30, Sea Tigers attacked "Dunhinda," a self propelled barge
hired by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, which was carrying kerosene,
auto diesel and low sulphur diesel, some ten miles east of Point Pedro.
A boat loaded with suicide cadres which exploded some 15 yards away from
the vessel failed to damage the oil tanks. However, three Navy personnel
The attack was intended to cut off fuel supplies to the Jaffna peninsula.
Another incident yesterday in Batticaloa left 19 civilians including
a candidate for Wednesday's elections injured. This was when two parcel
bombs, placed under the table of candidate Paranidharan Pradeepan, exploded
at the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) office in Batticaloa. The
explosions came when a large crowd had gathered in the EPDP office, located
behind the bus depot at Govindan Road. Police said after one parcel bomb
exploded, the second was detonated by a sympathetic explosion.
The two abortive guerrilla attacks in October, State intelligence agencies
reported, compelled Tiger guerrillas to decide on slowing down their guerrilla
attacks during the period of the polls campaign. They had, according to
these agencies, planned attacks not only in the City but also on several
targets in the north and the east.
The move, these agencies argued, was because of the extreme caution
the guerrillas wanted to exercise to avert drawing international attention
to incidents triggered off by them. This is specifically in view of the
campaign against terrorism by United States and its allies, in the wake
of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New
York and the Pentagon in Washington.
Yesterday's attack at Kattaparichchan, Navy officials suspect, may be
a precursor to possible attempts by Tiger guerrillas to attack the Trincomalee
Port. They say the Army base there is located in close proximity to Gangi
where the Sea Tigers have a base. They are said to use the Mahaweli Ganga,
which falls into the Koddiyar Bay, to move into the seas off Trincomalee.
These suspicions are being confirmed by highly placed intelligence sources.
"Although their plans to attack the Trincomalee Port have been bared following
the arrest of a senior Sea Tiger cadre, they may be wanting to exert further
pressure to show they have not given up," says one senior intelligence
official who spoke on grounds of anonymity.
It was only last week that I reported in these columns of a Sea Tiger
plot to attack the Trincomalee Port being bared by the Police.
This followed the chance arrest of Kanapathipillai Sivakaran, a senior
Sea Tiger cadre.
Giving further credence to the fact that the guerrillas were focusing
on Naval targets was a remark made by their leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran,
in his annual "Heroes Week" address. Dealing with Norwegian peace initiatives,
he said "though we are strong with considerable manpower and firepower
we abstained from launching any major land based offensive operations this
year to facilitate the peace process...."
He has carefully left out all references to sea based offensive operations
which Sea Tiger cadres had embarked on whilst on logistics runs in the
past few months. Navy Headquarters have been alerted to the possibility
of more weapons shipments due for the guerrillas in the coming weeks. Hence,
the Navy has been placed on a high level of alert.
After turning 47 years, Mr. Prabhakaran declared in his "Heroes Week"
speech last Tuesday that the ban imposed on the LTTE should be lifted for
it to "participate in political negotiations freely as equal partners,
as the authentic political force.... "
He said his organisation is prepared to negotiate with the Sri Lanka
Government, only then, for a political framework that would satisfy "the
basic political aspirations of the Tamil people."
The "Heroes Day" speech by Mr. Prabhakaran has over the years been regarded
as a statement of policy by the LTTE enunciating its political aims and
strategic direction. The annual speech, keenly awaited by Colombo's diplomatic
community and the Government, this time, has transformed from that of sabre
rattling rhetoric of a nascent LTTE to a political statement aimed to assuage
international opinion from branding it as a terrorist organisation.
Under pressure of proscription in the United States, United Kingdom
and now Canada, and faced with the prospect of similar action by the European
Union this month, Mr. Prabhakaran's semantically conciliatory speech on
November 27 is not surprising.
That his declaration co-incides with the formation of the Tamil National
Alliance, which promotes the de-proscription of the LTTE and the recognition
of the LTTE as the only representative of the Tamil people, also signifies
a shift of strategy to legitimise the LTTE as a political entity - a gambit
that would also legitimise the LTTE internationally. Hence, Mr. Prabhakaran
in his speech has under-played the military role of the LTTE and its hitherto
declared aim of fighting to win Eelam.
The mainstream political parties contesting elections, in order to court
minority votes, also have focused on the need for negotiation and peace
whilst not being positive on what their policies would be for the conduct
of the war, should peace negotiations fail, as has been the past experience.
The military situation in the country is perhaps the foremost issue
requiring a solution and from which spills most of the other political
and economic problems.
Whereas the final solution to this vexed problem is undoubtedly a political
solution, until that is achieved a confrontational military situation will
remain. This demands that there should be a clearly identified national
political strategy towards solving the conflict and flowing from it, a
positive and clear - cut military strategy to counter the security threat
to the country.
Regretfully, in the past most military operations have been conducted
on an ad hoc basis to suit political exigencies and personal glory resulting
in many military disasters contributing to the existing stalemated military
situation. Yet, pre-election political declarations on the military situation
are vague and unclear. The LTTE on the other hand has during the months
of stalemated confrontation replenished its military hardware and revamped
And, in spite of Mr. Prabhakaran's "Heroes Week" peace rhetoric, the
good intentions of which has yet to be demonstrated to contradict his previous
record, the LTTE has not changed its commitment to its goal of Eelam.
These contrasting attitudes whilst exposing the lack of clarity of the
policies of mainstream political parties, more importantly, in the circumstances
perhaps portend a continuation of the vacillating military policies of
the past, with parochial politics transcending a national approach. One
need hardly say this is not in the interests of the country.
President orders arrest of deserters helping opposition parties
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga yesterday directed the Police
to immediately arrest deserters from security forces now engaged in polls
The directive was given to the Inspector General of Police, Lucky Kodituwakku,
at a top level security conference held at Janadhipathi Mandiraya, yesterday.
The move followed fears that deserters were being engaged by opposition
political parties to trigger polls violence and other illegal incidents
related to elections.
Taking part in the conference were Deputy Minister of Defence, General
Anuruddha Ratwatte, Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, Commander of the Army, Vice
Admiral Daya Sandagiri, Commander of the Navy, Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakkody,
Commander of the Air Force and Defence Secretary, Chandrananda de Silva.
The Sunday Times learns that particular attention was focused on Wayamba
where, it is claimed, such cadres are being used for violent activity connected
with the polls.
On Friday night, President Kumaratunga, ordered Army Commander, Lt.
Gen. Lionel Balagalle to immediately withdraw Army security provided to
UNP candidate and former PA Deputy Speaker, Major General (retd.) Sarath
Munasinghe. The Army personnel are to be replaced with policemen in terms
of the directive.
The move is said to follow an incident where security guards assigned
to Maj. Gen. Munasinghe are alleged to have figured in clashes with supporters
of PA candidate and former Deputy Minister Salinda Dissanayake. Both sides
have been trading allegations at each other for triggering off the incident.
Police are now investigating the incident.
Army security to Maj. Gen. Munasinghe, which was withdrawn earlier,
was restored to him on a directive from the Supreme Court. This was after
Maj. Gen. Munasinghe petitioned the Court and pointed out that the Human
Rights Commission, to which he had made representations, had recommended
that his Army security be restored.
Police Headquarters is learnt to have sent out instructions yesterday
directing Police to arrest deserters from security forces engaged in polls
activity. A round up campaign began yesterday.