Situation Report
By Iqbal Athas
2nd December 2001
The Sunday Times on the Web















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.

Sea Tigers on the shores of Chempiyanpattu (north). On the right, in striped fatigues, is their leader, SoosaiSea 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 or vessels.

Click image for a larger viewClick image for a larger view
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 were killed.

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 its infrastructure.

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 activity.

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.

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