Koimar" was loaded with ammunition and fuel
Sri Lanka Navy received information about a suspicious ship bringing
warlike items into Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lanka
Navy took prompt action to immediately stop the unloading of such
items. As a result, it was confirmed no warlike items were unloaded
in Sri Lanka.
ship in question did not enter Sri Lankan territorial waters."
came in a Ministry of Defence news release last Wednesday, just
three days after The Sunday Times (Situation Report) revealed exclusively
details of "The mystery weapons ship in the high seas."
The four sentences,
though seemingly sketchy, revealed much more than it sought to conceal.
It was indeed
creditable for the United Front Government to boldly admit that
there was information about a suspicious ship bringing in war like
items into Sri Lanka. In the wake of the ripples caused by the revelations,
The Sunday Times learnt, Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe, directed
that an official statement be issued setting out the position.
Even if the
news release did not say to whom this "suspicious ship or the
lethal cargo belonged," there is hardly any dispute over the
matter. Not because there is only one group or organisation that
is well known to have smuggled warlike items during the near twenty
year long separatist war between Security Forces and Tiger guerrillas.
There is incontrovertible
evidence that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was responsible.
They used a large tanker to bring in not only assorted ammunition
and other warlike items into Sri Lanka but also large quantities
of fuel. This has been further confirmed by the Indian Navy that
had trailed the suspicious vessel since it was spotted in the Bay
of Bengal waters, far east of the southern Indian state of Tamil
Nadu or some 110 nautical miles north east of Mullaitivu.
That is not
all. Besides confirming that the suspicious vessel in question was
the 75 metres long "MV Koimar," the Indian Navy,
The Sunday Times learnt, has made available to their Sri Lankan
counterparts colour photographs of the vessel moving in the high
seas. Earlier, responding to radio calls, those on board the vessel
had identified themselves as members of the LTTE.
It has now
come to light that five heavily armed Sea Tiger attack craft had
positioned themselves in the high seas off Mullaitivu that Friday
night (December 13) when the suspicious vessel was spotted. Were
they awaiting the arrival of smaller boats loaded with cargo at
mid-sea to be escorted ashore? Suspicions have arisen following
the location of at least four boats (fitted with outboard motors),
ahead of the Sea Tiger attack craft and in close proximity to the
The MoD news
release went on to say the Sri Lanka Navy took prompt action to
"immediately stop the unloading of such items" and added
"it was confirmed no warlike items were unloaded." Leave
alone being sighted, in the absence of any contact with the tanker
by any Naval craft deployed to track it down, how the MoD could
conclude "they (the Navy) took prompt action to stop the unloading"
is not clear. That raises many questions.
in these columns last week, upon receipt of information on Thursday
night (December 12), the Navy sought help from the Sri Lanka Air
Force. The SLAF deployed their radar equipped US built Beechcraft
surveillance aircraft to carry out reconnaissance in the southern
and north-eastern deep seas.
Northern Naval Area Headquarters in Kankesanthurai and Eastern Naval
Area Headquarters in Trincomalee deployed a fleet of 12 Dvora Fast
Attack Craft (FACs) and and at least three Fast Gun Boats (FGBs).
A significant feature of this deployment was the presence on board
of representatives of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), those
tasked to monitor the ongoing ceasefire. Some of the craft went
to re-inforce "Operation Waruna Kirana" - a Naval
blockade in the north-eastern seas established in June 2001, to
prevent Tiger guerrillas from smuggling weaponry and related items.
Others were out on a search mission and later formed a cordon off
Waruna Kirana" blockade extends in the high seas off the
coast from Chalai (north of Mullaitivu) southwards to Alampil, (north
of Kokkutuduwai and adjoining the Nayaru lagoon). The Navy has used
a large part of its assets to place this permanent blockade some
six miles off the shore. According to operational orders issued
by Navy Headquarters, Naval craft in this cordon are required to
liase closely with vessels deployed in "Operation Seal,"
where larger Navy vessels patrol deep seas some 60 miles off the
Sri Lanka Navy in the conduct of "Operation Waruna Kirana"
is the Sri Lanka Air Force, which shifted its Air Surveillance Command
Centre from Anuradhapura to Trincomalee, in June last year. They
were tasked not only to carry out reconnaissance flights but also
operate UAV's (unmanned aerial vehicles) to detect Sea Tiger boat
If the February
22 Ceasefire Agreement scaled down both Naval and SLAF activity
considerably, the former's operational capability, particularly
in the deep seas were badly hindered by its aging fleet and the
lack of spares for its newer acquisitions - matters that have rendered
its operational capability to less than half of what existed before
the latest ceasefire. In this backdrop, it is no secret that the
Navy's capability to intercept, leave alone prevent unloading of
warlike items, is woefully inadequate.
of Engagement (ROE) for Sri Lanka Navy personnel, issued after the
Ceasefire Agreement, have also placed some restrictions. The ROE
issued by Navy Commander Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, on March 1,
this year, (just six days after the ceasefire), defines the "action
to be taken when a LTTE supply vessel is detected."
identified as a LTTE supply vessel and is within the territorial
waters of Sri Lanka (12 nautical miles)," Vice Admiral
Sandagiri has issued specific instructions. Among them:
* The SLN unit
detecting such vessel will initially interrogate the suspect vessel
through radio communications.
* If the suspected
vessel does not adhere to instructions of the SLN, the latter will
board the vessel in the exercise of the right to visit and search
the vessel for the purpose of determining any violation of the laws
of Sri Lanka. If such vessel is found to have violated the laws
of Sri Lanka, SLN will proceed to arrest the vessel and bring it
to the nearest port to be dealt with according to law;
*If the suspect
vessel does not adhere to SLN instructions and attempts to avoid
SLN units, it will be considered a hostile act and warning shots
will be fired across the bows to make the suspicious vessel adhere
to the instructions given by SLN units.
* If the suspect
vessel still does not respond and continues to disobey SLN orders,
it will be considered as a hostile act and SLN will reserve the
right to take whatever action necessary to stop the vessel, including
the recourse to use of force.
The above orders,
Vice Admiral Sandigiri made clear, also applied in respect of "LTTE
vessels found within the contiguous zone of Sri Lanka (24 nautical
miles) ". He said the SLN is entitled to apprehend any vessel
on the high seas if found engaged in:
of a vessel in order to rendezvous with LTTE log boats/any other
boats with a clear intention of transferring/smuggling in warlike
warlike materials to LTTE log craft/other craft or making preparations
to (a) receive LTTE log boats (b) to effect transfer of warlike
materials (c) to launch loaded/empty LTTE boats.
broadcasting in radio frequency spectrum
aircraft (fixed wing/rotary wing) with the intention of violating
Sri Lankan air space.
* Any other
manoeuvring of a vessel in a suspicious manner, which may be deemed
to be contrary to peaceful means.
It is clear
that Naval craft deployed to detect the tanker in question did not
have the opportunity to enforce any of the Rules of Engagement spelt
out by Vice Admiral Sandagiri. In as much as it is difficult to
independently verify the Navy's claim that no warlike items were
unloaded, it is equally difficult to ascertain usually reliable
reports early this week that the Sea Tigers succeeded in unloading
some boat loads of assorted ammunition and even mines. There were
also unconfirmed reports of thousands of litres of fuel and some
boxes, suspected to be loaded with ammunition, being dumped into
the deep sea. This is said to be after the Indian Navy detected
MoD claim that the "ship in question did not enter Sri Lankan
territorial waters" is correct. Barring one, or at most two
instances in recent times, unloading of all warlike material have
always been carried out in the deep seas from ships to barges or
boats equipped with more than one outboard motor for speedy runs.
A few miles closer to the coast, they are known to be escorted by
Sea Tiger attack craft ashore to prevent any interception by the
Navy. In the case of the latest suspicious vessel, it was known
to be moving much beyond the deep-sea limits to which Sri Lanka
Naval craft have been tasked to operate.
of the Naval vessels tasked for the detection were able to proceed
to the area.
No matter whether
warlike items were unloaded or not, the United Front Government
appears to be taking the latest LTTE move very seriously. Navy Commander
Vice Admiral Daya Sandagiri, will leave for New Delhi, possibly
on Tuesday, for talks in this regard with high-ranking Indian Navy
officials. His task will be to seek further Indian Navy assistance
for the Sri Lanka Navy to prevent any future attempts by the LTTE
to smuggle warlike material.
Tilak Marapana, now in New Delhi to attend to matters related to
civil aviation (a subject under the Transport Ministry which is
his other portfolio) has also been asked to meet Indian Defence
Minister, George Fernandes. It is not clear whether Vice Admiral
Sandagiri will also be on hand for this meeting.
priority to preventive measures, the UNF Government is also to raise
issue about the latest shipment at the next round of peace talks
with the LTTE in Nakorn Pathon, Thailand, next month.
the Ceasefire Agreement of February 22, the LTTE has strongly defended
their right to induct warlike material though they denied they were
engaged in the task. During a visit to the Wanni in May, this year,
the head of LTTE's Political Wing Tamil Selvan told The Sunday Times
(Situation Report - June 2) "We totally deny we are bringing
in arms and taking more people but at the same time we reserve the
right to defend this issue by saying there is nothing to prevent
us from doing so."
He added, "The
Sri Lanka Government and the military has been allocating money
without much reduction to purchase arms and have embarked on a recruitment
drive. If they can do that, there is nothing specific to prevent
the LTTE from doing the same thing. There is no necessity for
the LTTE to bring in weapons and take in more people because we
have a committed agenda for peace."
If the UNF
Government now has proof of the latest LTTE move, what have heightened
their concerns is developments in the Norwegian capital of Oslo
early this month. The third round of peace talks there ended with
a dramatic announcement by Norway that the LTTE had agreed to seek
a federal solution within a united Sri Lanka.
to "explore a solution founded on the principle of internal
self-determination in areas of historical habitation of the Tamil
speaking peoples, based on a federal structure within a united Sri
Lanka," UNF leaders associated with the peace process ask why
there was a need for the LTTE to resort to an enhanced arms build
Since a settlement
is yet to be worked out, the LTTE may well argue, much against the
Government's wishes that they want to have a strong military in
their own region. In fact, LTTE Chief Negotiator, Anton Balasingham,
who was on a visit to Switzerland to study the system of Government
in that country, had inquired of examples where militaries existed
within a federal set up or in a confederation. In that context,
the creation of a much stronger LTTE military machine would undoubtedly
make the LTTE stake stronger claims. Much the same way as they could
lay claims that the newly opened "Police Stations" and
"Courts of Law" in the East showed that their writ now
runs in the Eastern province.
sections of the Government reacted in a bizarre fashion when The
Sunday Times reported the news that LTTE "Police Stations"
and "Law Courts" had begun functioning from November,
this year, in the east. One Parliamentarian complained that a photograph
of the "Law Courts" that appeared in The Sunday Times
was four years old. A loquacious Cabinet Minister, now a TV personality
of sorts in chat shows, claimed, (and continues to claim), quoting
Police Chief T.E. Anandarajah, that an agent provided the photograph.
He boasts that these "police stations" and "law courts"
had existed for years in the east and likened them to those operated
by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the south. Yet, Government's
peace negotiators raised issue with the LTTE at the Oslo talks (after
the revelations were made) and won an assurance that no more "police
stations" or "law courts" will be opened in the east.
And now, the
Government has reacted positively to The Sunday Times report on
the mystery weapons ship in the high seas. It has not only admitted
that the Navy received information about a suspicious ship but has
now embarked on tougher preventive measures. Like the assurance
it won in Oslo to prevent opening of more "police stations"
and "law courts" in the east, the latest preventive measures
are to prevent the LTTE resorting toa major weapons build-up. These
moves are indeed a welcome change from the previous stance of berating
the media for its revelations.
knotty issue of HSZs
It was undoubtedly an embarrassing moment for Defence
Secretary Austin Fernando. Before undertaking a trip to India
early this week, Defence Minister Tilak Marapana, summoned
him for a meeting to ascertain matters relating to the second
meeting of the Sub-Committee on De-escalation and Normalisation
(SDN) inside an aluminium tent in the no man's land at Muhamalai,
(Jaffna peninsula) between Security Forces and LTTE check-points
on December 14.
Times learnt Mr. Marapana was concerned over complaints he
received that members of the Sri Lankan military team were
constrained by Mr. Fernando from expressing their reservations
relating to certain issues over the High Security Zone (HSZ)
during the SDN meeting. The senior officer concerned, Jaffna
Security Forces Commander, Major Gen. Sarath Fonseka had made
representations to the Defence Minister. He wanted to ensure
that the HSZ was not dismantled with the concurrence of the
if Mr. Fernando, who headed the Sri Lankan side, tried to
soften his men from speaking their mind out, perhaps for fear
of offending the LTTE side, the fact that the issue over the
High Security Zone (HSZ) had become an explosive one is no
secret. The military establishment was agog with the story
of the note of caution sounded by the Tiger guerrilla delegation's,
Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan alias Karuna, at the talks. He
is learnt to have said that his leader (Velupillai Prabhakaran)
had urged them to ensure that the issue over the HSZ is resolved
without delay. Otherwise, it would be difficult for them to
take part in future SDN meetings and they would be forced
to raise the issue at a higher level, he is learnt to have
if the note of caution was not reflected in the official news
release issued by the Norwegian Embassy after the SDN meeting,
it did confirm that the issue of the HSZ was "discussed
at length." This is what it said:
matter of High Security Zones, especially in Jaffna peninsula,
was discussed at length. The parties agreed that a solution
to the resettlement of internally displaced people in present
High Security Zones and other areas presently perceived as
inaccessible to the public could only be solved through integrated
plans of action agreed upon by the two parties. These plans
will include both security issues as well as humanitarian
plans should be developed in consultation between the relevant
Brigade field headquarters. In order to work out appropriate
plans and procedures and to build gradual trust between the
parties in the process, it was agreed that such plans should
start on limited areas and be developed continuously while
already agreed plans are being implemented.
Fonseka, commander of the Sri Lanka Army in Jaffna peninsula,
will deliver a proposal for the first of such plans for a
limited, previously populated area in the High Security Zone
in the Jaffna Peninsula, before 21st of December.
plan will thereafter be discussed and agreed upon in a meeting
between General Fonseka and Colonel Theepan, LTTE commander
of the North, with the assistance of Major General Trond Furuhovde,
Head of SLMM, as a consultant to the SDN.
principled way of connecting security to normalisation is
regarded by the parties as an expression of de-escalation
contributing to building confidence between the parties.
SDN agreed that LTTE would within 14 days present a proposal
on a structure and procedure on how to deal with return of
land and property to the rightful owners. This proposal will
be presented to the GOSL (Government of Sri Lanka) and taken
up for decision at the next meeting of the SDN. The next plenary
session of the SDN will be held in Omanthai on January 20."
Security Zone in several parts of the Jaffna peninsula is
over 150 square kilometres in extent and constitutes about
15 per cent of the landmass in the peninsula.
Times learns that Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Maj. Gen.
Sarath Fonseka yesterday delivered a document containing his
proposals to Gen. Trond Furhovde, head of Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM). It is to be forwarded to LTTE "commander"
for North, "Colonel" Theepan.
Sunday Times learns that the Security Forces have offered
to release two sections from the High Security Zone, one in
Keerimalai (west of Palaly) and another near Ariyalai/Tanankilappu
areas (south east of Jaffna). However, they have insisted
that in return the LTTE should disarm their cadres, withdraw
artillery/Mortars and other heavy weapons. They also say the
police should be permitted to carry out checks in areas to
of the LTTE, that is demanding a fuller withdrawal from the
High Security Zone, will only be known in the coming weeks.
Whether it will accept the conditions and discuss issues with
Maj. Gen. Fonseka or reject them outright is not immediately
press conference he gave and published in The Virakesari of
December 18, the head of LTTE's Political Wing, Tamil Selvan,
has declared that people of the north and east should be allowed
to return to their original homesteads by getting the military
to withdraw from civilian populated areas they have "captured"
and continue to occupy. "It is only then we can successfully
implement our projects," he has said.
conference came after Mr. Selvan declared open the LTTE's
Secretariat for Economic Development. Here are some of the
questions posed to him by the media and answers given as reported
in The Virakesari.
was the outcome of the meeting held during the past two days?
have taken a firm decision to establish a fund for rehabilitation
will this fund be managed?
will be controlled by international organisations including
UNDP and the World Bank. After the Sub Committee (Government
and LTTE) identifies specific projects, funds will be channelled
through the Secretariat.
there be separate fund for the Muslims affected by the war?
Sub Committees will look into the interests of all communities.
Whatever projects are initiated, the benefits will reach all
communities. Those badly affected will be compensated.
will the fund be directed to the Secretariat? Will foreign
aid be sent directly or will it be channelled through the
fund has been set up for reconstruction, rehabilitation and
development work. Whatever funds given by donor countries
for these purposes will be sent directly. This will be monitored
by organisations such as the World Bank and the UNDP.
this Secretariat establish branches in other districts?
district in the north-east will have a Committee comprising
the District Secretary, two members of the LTTE and another
member nominated by the government. These Committees will
study the needs of the people in the area and bring it to
the notice of the Secretariat.
are the projects to be introduced immediately?
are thousands of people who have been displaced and their
fundamentals have been denied. Therefore rehabilitation is
the immediate priority. That would be attended to immediately.
is this Secretariat due to commence functions?
began soon after we opened it on Sunday (December 15).
you think as you try to implement projects the issues of security
related problems including the High Security Zones can crop
if the 'occupied army' withdraws from the areas they are 'occupying'
and allow the people to return we can successfully implement
people have not been allowed to return to their original places.
Therefore how do you think you can successfully implement
civilians should be allowed to return to the areas that have
been captured by the Army. Otherwise whatever the project
we try to implement will not bring any results. The government
wanted time to make an announcement regarding the issue of
allowing civilians returning to their original places and
they were also expecting the LTTE proposals on this issue.
Therefore we will give time and we believe that it will bring
also opened an account at the Kilinochchi Bank of Ceylon branch.
The Norwegian Embassy made the first deposit. They placed
one million Norwegian Kroners or Rs 12.5 million.