and news blackouts
Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle (right) points in the direction
of the A9 (Kandy-Jaffna) highway Southwards as he raises questions
from Major General Sisira Wijesuriya, Security Forces Commander,
Jaffna. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte (Second
from left) and Lt. Gen. Balagalle flew to the North last Wednesday
to check on Army preparations for the opening of the highway.
This picture was taken near the defence lies at Muhamalai, on
the isthmus that links the Jaffna peninsula and mainland Sri
Lanka where Security Forces and rebel defence lines face each
If a series
of events were to bring relations between the Government and Tiger
guerrillas to a flash point this week, matters arising from them,
interestingly enough, showed greater interaction between the two
Five weeks into the ceasefire, enforcement of some provisions in
the agreement turned out to be a thorny, if not embarrassing issue
for the United Front Government. So much so, it took an unprecedented
step - directing the "Peace Secretariat" in the Prime
Minister's office, to carry out the dissemination of all official
news relating to the military, police and the peace process.
Until now, the task has been carried out by the Operational Headquarters
of the Ministry of Defence. Its daily news releases to the local
and foreign media was the only official source for day to day developments,
particularly in the once volatile north and east. With no hostilities,
these news releases focused almost entirely on activities of the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) - conscription of children,
extortion of money, attempts to smuggle in military hardware, recruitment
of cadres among them. They were compiled from reports sent by the
area military command.
More recently, instances of ceasefire violations have been documented.
If it gave Sri Lankans and the world outside a picture of what was
going on, for many western governments, it formed the main basis
to monitor issues related to
peace talks and release public statements.
The news releases were prepared by the Directorate of Media, in
the Operational Headquarters (Ministry Defence), headed by veteran
infantryman, Brigadier Sanath Karunaratne. They were personally
approved by Defence Secretary Austin Fernando before the Government
Information Department was called upon to release them. For almost
a week now, the Department of Information has not circulated the
Op Hq (MoD) news releases.
Then came the ruling that Bernard Gunatilleke, head of the "Peace
Secretariat," should personally approve the news releases.
It is his Secretariat that will give the Information Department
what should be circulated to the media. The good side of this move,
the Government believes, is that there will be one official voice
reporting on the peace process. Moreover, such a control, it is
claimed, will eliminate the dissemination of information that is
harmful or counter productive to the peace process.
It will, however, deny the Sri Lankan public and the world at large,
knowledge of how the Ceasefire Agreement, a vital component in the
peace process, is working. The accuracy of facts relating to the
catalogue of guerrilla activity, particularly ceasefire violations
contained in the news releases, have not been challenged in the
past weeks and months, though some of the contents, inevitably,
turned out to be embarrassing to the government.
Whilst the Information Department blackout of Op Hq (MoD) news releases
were in force, some developments in the east brought Government-LTTE
relations to a flash point. A string of incidents raise questions
on the validity of restrictions, or subtle censoring, on official
reportage. On March 27, Tiger guerrilla cadres placed road blocks
at Kinnaiyadi on the Valaichchenai-Batticaloa main road. The Army's
23 Division commanded by Major General Sunil Tennekoon, forwarded
to Army Headquarters on March 27 a report from 233 Brigade under
his control. This is what it said:
"Three LTTE cadres who had entered the controlled area with
a hand held radio, a GPS and cyanide capsules were arrested by security
forces personnel deployed in Kinnaiyadi. Later on the instigation
of the LTTE, students and the general public had conducted a protest
demanding the release of the LTTE cadres. In order to avoid a conflict
situation the three LTTE cadres had been released by the security
A later report, also from Major Genral Tennekoon to Army Headquarters
(March 28) said:
"It was reported 03 X LTTE cadres attired in civilian clothes
had blocked the MSR (Main Supply Route) by placing stones and logs
on the middle of the road. Thereafter, those LTTE cadres had stopped
the buses plying on the road and had checked the identity cards
of the civilians. On receipt of this information, a foot patrol
was sent from the Kumburumoolai detachment to the scene and on seeing
the troops approaching the said LTTE cadres had taken to their heels.
The troops had immediately cleared the obstacles and opened the
road for traffic. Troops had also recovered 01 X small bottle of
petrol which had been left behind."
More details of the incident came in a report Major General Sunil
Tennekoon, GOC 23 Division sent the "Peace Secretariat"
in the Prime Minister's office. He protested over a ceasefire violation.
Excerpts from his report: "At approximately 1030 hrs on 27
March 2002, security force personnel deployed at Kinnaiyadi, arrested
three LTTE cadres within the cleared area, approx 100 metres from
the camp. One of these cadres, who was riding a motor cycle (Honda
CD 125 bearing no. 160 - 2842) had been identified as 'THARAN' a
LTTE intelligence cadre who was in-charge of 46 area (BCO North)
namely Valaichchenai, Kiran and Sittandi.
"At the time of arrest, these three cadres were in the possession
of a hand held radio and a global positioning system. It was also
observed that all three cadres were seen wearing cyanide capsules
around their necks. "At the same time another LTTE cadre, who
was also spotted in the vicinity had pulled out a cyanide capsule
and put it in his mouth and threatened to swallow it, if he was
to be arrested and made good his escape from the clutches of the
security force personnel.
"However, this cadre had immediately organised and instigated
the school children of Saraswathi Vidyalaya, Kinnaiyadi, which is
adjacent to the camp, to come out in protest against the arrest
of the LTTE cadres. At this stage the school children had all got
out of the school premises and conducted a protest against the arrest
on the instructions of the LTTE cadre who escaped.
"By this time, on the instructions of the HQ 233 Brigade, the
three LTTE cadres, who were to be handed over to the Valaichchenai
Police, since they had violated the MoU (Section 1.7 of Article
01) for having entered the cleared area with military equipment
and (Section 1.12 of Article 01) for having come into the cleared
area without permission were released. Hence, whilst two of the
LTTE cadres had boarded the "Unicorn" vehicle, the other
cadre namely 'THIRAN' had said that he would ride his bike to the
Police Station. But due to the presence of the school children,
who by this time had surrounded the vehicle, the LTTE cadres could
not be moved out of the area.
"In the meantime, the LTTE cadre who escaped had also organised
the villagers in Kinnaiyadi and the adjacent villages to congregate
at the place of the incident and to protest against the arrest,
with a view of getting the three LTTE cadres released.
"Finally, it was observed that there was a gathering of about
1500 people who surrounded the scene of the incident and thus prevented
the 'Unicorn' vehicle to proceed to the Valaichchenai Police.
"A soldier who was carrying a camera at the site was manhandled
and received minor scratch marks on his neck when some LTTE cadres
had pounced on him and removed his camera and later destroyed it
by smashing it against the kovil wall.
"The Police too who arrived at the scene from the Valaichchenai
Police Station, were helpless in controlling the large and boisterous
crowd that was present. It was also observed that some of the youth
who had congregated at the scene were in the possession of stones,
which they at times, threatened to throw at the security force vehicles
parked at the scene.
"Therefore, due to the unruly situation and in the best interest
of maintaining the peace, it was decided to release the three LTTE
cadres after they had handed over their military equipment and had
their statements recorded by the Police.
"However, the LTTE cadres had refused to hand over the radio
set and give any statements to the Police but had consented to hand
over the global positioning system to the security forces and had
"Therefore, on orders of this HQ the three LTTE cadres were
released and advised to get back into the un-cleared areas and not
to visit the cleared areas without proper authority and permission
and thereby the situation was defused and the large crowd present
was dispersed around 1400 hours.
'At the conclusion of the protest campaign, it was observed that
a cameraman was photographing the security force personnel who were
present at the site and when he was called upon to identify himself
he had pulled out an identity card issued to him by the 'THINAKADIR'
newspaper, which cited him as one of their reporters.
"The security force personnel who were involved in the incident
acted with a high degree of patience and restraint and averted a
major confrontation in the best interests of the MoU. It was commendable
the way the troops performed their duties without getting excited,
panicking or firing and not getting themselves involved in any violent
activity, although they were provoked right along.
"This trend undoubtedly disturbs the efforts made by the Government
to achieve a lasting solution to the conflict and unless nipped
in the bud at the very early stages, could pose as a major problem
in the maintenance of law and order especially in the cleared areas
and the areas controlled by the Government of Sri Lanka."
But the pro-LTTE Tamilnet, a widely accessed website world-wide,
related another story. The highlights:
" People in the village of Kinnaiyadi, 32 kilometres north
of Batticaloa, smashed up a camera belonging to the Sri Lanka Army
intelligence and refused to let the SLA interrogate three members
of the Liberation Tigers who had visited the area Wednesday. The
SLA unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate with the Kinnaiyadi villagers
to convince them that the three members of the LTTE would be released
after being questioned briefly in the local Army camp. The SLA then
gave safe passage to the three across the lagoon to the region controlled
by the LTTE.
"The SLA arrested three members of the Liberation Tigers who
were on a visit to the area under the terms of the cease-fire agreement,
Wednesday in Sungaankerni, near Kinnaiyadi. A large crowd gathered
when the SLA was taking the three to the Kinnayiadi military camp.
The crowd, which was swelling in strength, refused to let the SLA
to take the arrested Tigers into the camp.
"Meanwhile, students from schools in nearby Valaichchenai also
arrived in their numbers in Kinnaiyadi to join the villagers who
had surrounded the SLA unit that had arrested the Tigers. "During
the argument and negotiations between the villagers of Kinnaiyadi
and the SLA, operatives of the SLA's military intelligence (MI)
unit tried to photograph the three Liberation Tigers. But the incensed
crowd set up upon the MI operatives and smashed up their camera
The Army soon learnt the reasons for the guerrillas placing a road
block - they were checking for bundles of EPDP's (Eelam People's
Democratic Party) newspaper Thinamurasu that were being transported
to the area in buses. There had been critical reports on the LTTE
in the Colombo based newspaper. The bus was late on that day and
the LTTE could not carry out the task. From this event, one can
see the difference that would arise if the actual events are not
officially reported. As is clear, the LTTE, which has continued
to have a lead over the Government in propaganda activity connected
with the peace process, will be at a much greater advantage.
A more disturbing development came on March 30. The 23 Division
sent the following report to Army Headquarters: March 30 at 1800
hrs: GENERAL AREA MEEYANKULAM "Troops deployed on picket duties
between 126 mile post and Meeyankulam observed a large number of
LTTE cadres (approx. 200-300) in uniform with weapons (light machine
guns, rocket propelled grenades, grenade launchers and multi purpose
machine guns) moving from south to north via the Main Supply Route.
"Initially troops had attempted to prevent the crossing and
Officer Commanding, Army Camp Meeyankulam too rushed to the crossing
site and endeavoured to prevent the crossing. However, the LTTE
did not respond to efforts made by the troops to prevent the crossing.
The leader had identified himself as Lieutenant Colonel Weerasingham
and had said that they will not take instructions from Officers
in the rank of Captain and if at all a Colonel should speak to him.
"Majority of them have been newly trained recruits in the age
group between 12 years to 16 years. During the conversation between
the LTTE and the troops they had revealed that they will be attending
a function at Kadiraweli and will be back after 48 hours. The troops
had observed that LTTE had videoed the incident as four of them
were carrying video cameras." The guerrillas succeeded in brushing
past the Army and continuing their journey. Maj. Gen. Tennekoon
complained again to the "Peace Secretariat" in the Prime
Minister's office about a ceasefire violation. He gave more details
of the incident in his report. Here are excerpts:
"Troops deployed along the MSR ( Main Supply Route) for route
picket duties observed a group of terrorists approaching the Main
Supply Route from South to North from general area MUKARAL junction
at 1800 hours. Troops at the aforesaid picket immediately informed
the Officer Commanding at MEEYANKULAM (MYK) detachment, regarding
the terrorist movement as they presumed that a large group of terrorists
attempting to cross the Main Supply Route. Majority of them were
dressed in uniforms and carrying weapons. Initially picket troops
attempted to prevent the crossing by showing their presence along
the Main Supply Route.
"However terrorists continued to approach the Main Supply Route
in large numbers. Officer Commanding Meeyankulam detachment moved
to the aforesaid location with his troops and informed the leader,
who identified himself as Lt. Col. Weerasingham, that this is a
violation of MoU and had instructed them to return to their bases
as that was the only option available to him at that point of time
as by that time troops have observed more than 200 terrorists in
the vicinity and majority of them were armed with weapons including
LMGs (Light Machine Guns), RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades), grenade
launchers, MPMGs (Multi Purpose Machine Guns) and some of them were
carrying communication equipment.
By this time terrorists have established a tactical deployment by
positioning their cut off groups to prevent reinforcements coming
into the crossing site. Terrorists were aiming their weapons at
own troops including RPGs towards the Army tractor. Subsequently
one of the terrorist leaders had instructed them to aim off the
RPGs aimed at the Army tractor. Specific instructions were given
to the Officer Commanding to handle the situation tactfully and
diplomatically patiently keeping in mind the relevant articles of
"Terrorist leader had refused to listen to the OC (Officer
Commanding), saying that he will not take instructions or listen
to captains and if at all officers of the rank of Colonel should
speak to him. However, OC had attempted to convince the leader that
the attempted crossing is a gross violation of the relevant articles
of the MoU and therefore to return to their base. Terrorist leader
had totally rejected instructions given by the OC and by force they
have continued their crossing. Approximately 200 to 300 terrorists
have crossed the MSR from south to north. The leader has informed
the officer that they have received instructions from their leaders
to carry out the movement. Also has said that even the hierarchy
of LTTE are aware of their action and it is not a violation of the
"During the dialogue between the troops and terrorists, it
had been revealed that the majority of terrorists are newly passed
out recruits between the age of 12 years and 16 years, and they
have been instructed to attend a function at Kadiraweli. Terrorists
also had informed that they will be returning to their base at south
of the MSR (main supply route) after 48 hours and their movement
will be notified, to the Army in advance.
"When troops attempted to prevent the crossing some of them
even had physically pushed away some of our troops and continued
their movement. However, the troops in the scene acted with patience
in the best interest of the MoU. Troops did not resort to any violent
activity. The manner in which the situation was handled is praiseworthy,
which prevented a major confrontation.
"The previous incident occurred on 27 March 2002 at Kinnaiyadi
and aforesaid crossing clearly indicates concentrated efforts of
the LTTE to provoke troops and force them to react in order to create
an incident which may be ultimately blamed on the security forces
personnel which may also tarnish the image and discredit the Sri
Lanka Army. Therefore it would be appreciated, if timely action
is taken to pre-empt LTTE's intention of provoking troops for their
advantage; which may hinder the ongoing peace process."
As claimed, did the guerrillas proceed towards Kadiraweli for a
function ? Or was it a failed attempt to accompany LTTE's Military
Wing leader, Karuna, to the Wanni for a meeting with their leader,
Velupillai Prabhakaran and Chief Negotiator, Anton Balasingham ?
The question came to the fore since there was no large scale function
planned for in Kadiraweli.
By the next day (Monday, April 1), it became clear Karuna did want
to move to Wanni for a meeting with his leaders. The Norwegians
passed down an LTTE request to the peace secretariat for safe passage
to Wanni by sea route. The go ahead was given. On Tuesday (April
2) night, Karuna moved by sea from Vakarai (north of Batticaloa)
to a Sea Tiger base in Chalai (north of Mullaitivu). There were
tense movements when Sea Tiger boats escorting Karuna reported Naval
patrols moving in the close vicinity. They feared they were being
trailed. It later turned out that they were Navy patrols in the
region deployed on other tasks.
Karuna was due to return to Vakarai last night on the same "safe
passage" facility. This time the LTTE asked the peace secretariat
through Norwegian mediators for permission for Karikalan, the Political
Wing leader in the east, to travel by the same boat to Wanni. That
too was for a meeting with the LTTE leaders. Permission was granted.
The drama of the "guerrilla crossing" continued last Wednesday
(April 3).Two guerrillas, Reggie and Jim Kelly, walked into the
Army detachment at Meeyankulam to tell the Officer Commanding that
some 600 guerrillas now planned to return to Batticaloa area. Alarm
bells began to ring in the defence establishment. Chief of Defence
Staff, Gen. Rohan de S. Daluwatte and Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Lionel
Balagalle, were away in the North inspecting preparations on the
security forces side for the scheduled opening on the A-9 Kandy-Jaffna
highway tomorrow. News reached Lt. Gen. Balagalle that a tense situation
was developing with a large group of guerrillas threatening to cross
over. They were to do so wearing uniform and carrying weapons.
He is learnt to have telephoned Defence Secretary Austin Fernando,
to apprise him of the position. For hours thereafter, Mr. Fernando
and Major Gen. Tennekoon (GOC) had been in contact over the telephone.
The Defence Secretary had insisted that the guerrillas cannot be
allowed to move in uniform, that too with weapons in terms of the
Ceasefire Agreement. Monitors in Batticaloa were apprised of the
situation and his position had eventually prevailed. That assertion
by Mr. Fernando had made clear the Government wanted to strictly
abide by the Ceasefire Agreement though some monitors were in favour
of allowing the guerrillas to move in their uniforms without weapons.
The weapons were to be later transported to them in a vehicle though
this did not materialise.
At least one monitor was to argue the guerillas could move freely
since there were no defence lines in the East to separate Army and
guerrilla positions. Defence Secretary Austin Fernando, Army sources
in Batticaloa said, countered this by telling the monitor on the
telephone, if this was true, then the Army too could move to guerilla
held areas. The guerrillas were ordered by their Beirut base near
Batticaloa not to make the move. Army radio intercepts confirmed
the position and the matter has ended there, at least for the time
Meanwhile, the Government made unsuccessful attempts to advance
the opening of the A-9 highway to yesterday (Saturday) after some
senior security officials pointed out that Monday, tomorrow, was
inauspicious. The move did not meet LTTE approval. Now, tomorrow's
opening has also been shelved due to disagreement over procedural
issues and a new date is to be determined.
In the wake of the latest developments in the east, it would be
inimical to Government's own interests, not to mention the nation's
own, to clamp down on the dissemination of official information
relating to the military and the peace process. The Government would
forfeit the right to argue its own case with known facts should
there be problems which are inevitable in the long drawn out peace