Tiger trap for
Over the centuries the north eastern port
city of Trincomalee has been steeped in history. The Cholas, the
Pandyans, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British
have all left their footprints.
more recent times, for the British, Trincomalee was their first
possession in Sri Lanka. During World War II, it was home for the
British Far East Fleet after the fall of Singapore. During this
time it was bombed by the Japanese.
remained a British naval base, long after Sri Lanka's independence
in 1948. When they withdrew in 1957, the Navy took over. It became
their largest base.
significance of Trincomalee diminished somewhat after World War
II with developing naval technologies. But with one of the world's
deepest natural harbours and naval infrastructure it has always
remained a strategically important facility.
In the early
eighties, possible military use of the port and the oil tanks there
by the United States fuelled fears in neighbouring India. It came
in the backdrop of the growing rapport with China, then the only
supplier of military hardware to Sri Lanka.
The UNP Government
at that time was negotiating to lease out the tank farm to a US
company. Piqued by the move and in the aftermath of the 1983 ethnic
violence, a deeply concerned Government in New Delhi turned a blind
eye to Tamil militant groups operating guerrilla training camps
in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. What followed thereafter
was a near two decade long separatist war. The Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) eliminated all other rival groups in their
armed struggle to establish a so called separate state of Tamil
Eelam. They declared that Trincomalee would be the capital city
of that new nation.
When the ruling
United National Front (UNF) signed a Ceasefire Agreement with the
LTTE on February 22 last year, that officially marked the end of
a phase of hostilities of Eelam War III. That fierce phase accounted
for the largest losses in human and material terms.
The UNF was
keen to undo what their own political predecessors did. They leased
out the tank farm to state owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) -
a move that ensured not only an Indian presence but also cleared
their apprehensions. Since then, two fully equipped frigates of
the Indian Navy have been patrolling the international waters off
of Trincomalee continues after the ceasefire as both a naval, political
and economic centre. It still remains the life line for some 40,000
troops and policemen deployed in the Jaffna peninsula. It is only
a few hundreds who travel in and out of the peninsula by aircraft
daily. The bulk moves about by ships from Trincomalee after traversing
along the main Alpha Eight highway. Military supplies and provisions
for their sustenance take the same route. Hence crippling Trincomalee
or choking Alpha Eight, like denying oxygen to a dying person, can
be fatal to the troops holding the peninsula.
This is why
the recently set up LTTE camp at Manirasakulam (or more appropriately
at Kuranku Panchaan Kulam), just four kilometres south of an existing
army camp, assumes greater significance. In mid June, villagers
tipped off the army that a new guerrilla camp was being set up just
four kilometres away.
An Army officer
who went to the scene found construction work under way whilst armed
guerrillas gave protection. He reminded the guerrilla leader on
the spot that such activity in a Government controlled area violated
the Ceasefire Agreement. His protests were brushed off. As the officer
got in to his vehicle to return to camp, guerrillas opened out with
40mm grenades. They, however, missed the troops who were standing
The Army lodged
a protest to the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). After a probe
the SLMM ruled that the guerrillas should dismantle the camp and
withdraw from the area. Weeks have passed but they are staying put.
This week, the over enthusiastic state and sections of the private
media reported the LTTE would pull out within 72 hours, only to
draw a denial within hours from the guerrilla hierarchy in Kilinochchi.
Fortification of security at the camp, located near a village where
Muslim residents were re-settled after the ceasefire, continues.
But a development
that sent tremors down the UNF hierarchy over the issue came from
S. Prabagaran alias Pulithevan, the deputy head of the LTTE Peace
Secretariat. Mr Pulithevan, now spends as much time in Colombo as
he does in Kilinochchi. Unlike his guerrilla colleagues who are
disciplined to lead frugal lives, Mr Pulithevan seems exempted from
that strict LTTE code.
He has often
preferred the luxury of Colombo's five star hotels or deluxe apartments.
He had read reports early this week in the Colombo Tamil media.
One report had attributed remarks to Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando,
that the Government would resort to military action to oust the
Tiger guerrillas from Manirasakulam.
he thundered, amounted to a warning to abrogate the ceasefire. In
such an event, he clarified from UNF leaders, whether those remarks
were an intimation, as stipulated in the Ceasefire Agreement, to
give two weeks notice for abrogation. He was assured that was not
the case. Defence Secretary Fernando issued a denial that he made
such remarks. Needless to say the prompt response pleased his good
friend, the guerrilla peace broker.
unrelated development, there was also a prompt response through
a press release over Jaffna Security Forces Commander, Maj. Gen.
Sarath Fonseka, going on overseas leave. On Thursday night posters
had come up at Lipton Circus. They suggested that Maj. Gen. Fonseka
was being sent out on leave so the High Security Zones in Jaffna
could be dismantled. "The absence of Maj. Gen. Fonseka in the
office will not affect the HSZ
.. and the stand of the Army
on High Security Zones remains the same," said the Op Hq of
the Ministry of Defence.
The LTTE camp
at Manirasakulam, now set to remain despite all the protests, is
endemic of the gradual transformation of the landscape around Trincomalee.
Tiger guerrillas have opened up new military camps, re-occupied
ones they abandoned and set up a string of satellite camps around
bases that existed. The map on this page tells the story of this
changing environment. Newly recruited cadres have been trained and
moved in. New weaponry and communications equipment have been widely
developing scenario in and around Trincomalee is signalling a marked
shift to the military balance. The Tiger guerrillas are continuing
to become stronger militarily whilst the ground they dominate are
expanding. This is in the backdrop of the Security Forces being
plagued with desertions, hit by lack of resources and forced to
maintain an inactive profile lest they be accused of sabotaging
the peace process.
They are yet
to receive even the three months requirements to replenish their
dwindling stocks of ammunition and other items. The long term impact
of this change may lead to a virtual siege of Trincomalee - a move
that will threaten not only Sri Lanka's but now India's own interests.
This is the
most disturbing, if not the worst impact, the Tiger guerrilla actions
in the east during the 17 month long ceasefire has brought about.
In the neighbouring district of Batticaloa, recruitment and training
of cadres had gone on at such a hectic pace. According to one intelligence
source the guerrilla strength is now around 9000 cadres as against
a Security Forces strength of just over 6000. In the adjoining Amparai
district, training camps in the Kanjikudichiaru jungles are said
developments have caused serious concern at the highest levels of
the security establishment is no secret. A development which reflects
this phenomenon clearly and comes as a warning to the governmenttook
place at a meeting of the Security Forces and Police top brass last
Wednesday. Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle (Army Commander) who is acting
Chief of Defence Staff chaired a session with Vice Admiral Daya
Sandagiri (Commander, Sri Lanka Navy), Air Vice Marshal Donald Perera
(Commander, Sri Lanka Air Force) and Deputy Inspector General Indra
de Silva (representing T.E. Anandarajah, Inspector General of Police).
They were discussing
a letter that had ended up with the Army for action. Having established
two "Police Stations" in the east, one at Sampur (Trincomalee
District) and another at Palugamam (Batticaloa District), the LTTE
has now planned to open a "Police Headquarters" for the
East at Kokkadicholai (Batti-caloa district). Staff had been trained
in the Wanni and had to be moved out through Government controlled
areas. V. Bavan of the LTTE Peace Secretariat wrote to Hagrup Haukland,
acting head of the SLMM. He forwarded the letter to John Gooneratne,
acting Director General of SCOPP (Secretariat Co-ordinating the
Peace Process in the PM"s Office). From the latter, it went
to Defence Secretary Austin Fernando who had called for Army action.
This is what Mr. Bavan said:
LTTE - PEACE
clearance of LTTE policemen
24 newly trained LTTE policemen will be going by bus to Batticaloa
for their duties on Friday 1st of August. They will cross the Omanthai
check point around 12.30.
They will be
in civil dresses and carry uniforms in their bags individually.
Please make the necessary arrangements for their journey. Mr. S.
Tamilarasan is the OIC of this police team.
Here is the case of the LTTE requesting permission from the
Government of Sri Lanka for the passage of its "policemen"
from the north to the east. Firstly, the so called police are not
officially recognised. In fact, the latest proposals on a provisional
administrative council (exclusively revealed in The Sunday Times
July 20) specifically leaves out recognition for such an organisation
besides the subjects of land, security and revenue.
Times learnt a lengthy discussion ensued at the JOH meeting of top
brass. Whilst agreeing that they should not impose any measures
on the movement of LTTE leaders that would be construed as an obstruction
to the peace process, they felt the latest request was different
in nature. Whilst not recognising the LTTE "police" in
a response to be sent to them, it was felt that some reciprocal
measures had to be sought.
to the decision of the top brass at the JOH meeting was the Army's
DGGS (Director General of General Staff) Maj. Gen. Chula Seneviratne.
He wrote (on behalf of the Army Commander) directly to the acting
Head of SLMM with copies to Defence Secretary Fernando and the SCOPP.
Excerpts of what Maj. Gen. Seneviratne said on July 30:
above referred letter LTTE has made a request to transport 24 LTTE
members through Omanthai Entry Exit Point, and the cleared area
into Batticaloa uncleared area. The Army will not only conform to
the LTTE movement but will certainly assist to facilitate unhindered
movement through the entry Exit Point and escort the LTTE members
through the cleared area in vehicles belonging to the Sri Lanka
also be willing to accommodate any timings given by the LTTE at
their convenience. However, carriage of weapons and uniforms will
not be permitted. Catering for this need the Security Forces will
provide security for the LTTE members throughout the entire journey
from Entry Exit Point Omanthai to Entry Exit Point Mankerni / Chenkaladi
in Batticaloa as done in the past. It is stressed further that Army
will make all necessary arrangements for the safe and unhindered
movement of LTTE members from Omanthai to Batticaloa.
in reciprocation, it is requested that an undertaking is obtained
from the LTTE that they abide by the ruling given by the SLMM regarding
the vacation of the Manirasakulam camp immediately. It is also necessary
that the LTTE be informed to permit SLMM monitors to inspect the
newly constructed bunkers in the Welioya area violating the MOU.
The accomplishment of above will enable the implementation of the
LTTE proposal to move their members to Batticaloa.
expected that LTTE leadership will be convinced once properly briefed,
the importance of seeing the problems on the ground, since we have
to work together to achieve success in the Peace Process. It will
be of immense value in building confidence between the Security
Forces and the LTTE which has been eroded to some extent during
the past due to the blatant violations reported."
In other words,
to allow 24 LTTE "policemen" to pass through controlled
areas the Security Forces and police top brass unanimously insisted
through the Army that the guerrillas should (1) permit the SLMM
to inspect a LTTE bunker line which the Army complains had been
put up after the ceasefire. It says this bunker is within the line
of control and thus violates the ceasefire agreement. (2) The LTTE
should dismantle its camp at Manirasakulam and withdraw from this
Government controlled area.
head of SLMM Mr Haukland, after consulting the LTTE, responded.
He wrote to Defence Secretary Fernando (with copy to Army Commander)
on July 31 saying "SLMM is very pleased with your decision
to provide Army escort for the transport of 24 LTTE policemen while
travelling in GOSL controlled area on Friday August 1."
the two requirements set out by Maj. Gen. Seneviratne, Mr. Haukland
the newly constructed LTTE bunkers will be inspected
on Wednesday the coming week." As for dismantling of the Manirasakulam
camp, he pointed out that "the LTTE has so far not responded
positively to SLMM ruling
" He added "I have tried
to reach Tamilselvan to discuss the matter with him. However, it
has not been possible to get in touch with him."
into consideration the above mentioned," Mr Haukland said "I
strongly recommend that the LTTE road movement on the 1st of August
03 should go ahead with army escort as planned. SLMM will monitor
the road movement throughout."
Times learnt Defence Secretary Fernando heeded Mr. Haukland's request.
He is learnt to have asked the SLMM to ignore the requirements set
out by the Army. After he over ruled the Army, which took the decision
with the concurrence of the Navy, Air Force and Police, arrangements
were being made by the SLMM with Army in Wanni when procedural snags
arose. The latter said no. They had no orders.
thereafter,Brigadier N.A. Jayasuriya, Director of Operations, wrote
(on behalf of Army Commander) to Mr. Haukland reminding him of the
requirements set out in Maj. Gen. Seneviratne's letter. "Please
be informed that the Army cannot agree to the movement unless LTTE
agrees to the pre-conditions stated above," he said. The letter
(dated July 31) was also copied to Defence Secretary Fernando and
Maj. Gen. Susil Chandrapala, Security Forces Commander (Wanni).
night (July 31) strong pressure moves were afoot for the Army to
back down from its major demand. It was pointed out that the issue
of the LTTE camp at Manirasakulam was being discussed at the political
level with the LTTE. Hence, it was pointed out that the Army should
not stand in the way. Once again the UNF government was going out
of the way to please the LTTE.
telephoned Mr. Haukland on Thursday night to convey the Army's latest
position. It was followed by a letter from Army Commander Lt. Gen.
Balagalle the same night. Excerpts:
to place on record our appreciation for persuading the LTTE to heed
to our request for the SLMM to inspect bunker line in Welioya. This
conforms to one of our requests set out in our letter.
the other, the LTTE withdrawal from Manirasakulam, we have taken
note of your fresh assurance. We also note that in your renewed
attempt you have so far not been in a position to make contact with
Mr. S. P. Thamilchelvan. However, since the matter is being pursued
by you further we feel confident you may be able to persuade the
of the above we have agreed to escort the 24 LTTE members from Omanthai
Entry/Exit Point to Chenkalady /Mankerni Entry/Exit Point in Batticaloa.
due to your intimation reaching us only at around 2000 hours today
we regret to inform that it will be difficult for the Field Commanders
to arrange for the escorts tomorrow. Hence we could carry out this
task on Saturday 02 August 2003."
Friday morning the 24 LTTE "policemen" turned up at the
Omanthai entry / exit point and had to be turned away. They passed
The Tiger "policemen"
reached Batticaloa where their "police" infrastructure
for the east is being developed. In the meanwhile the LTTE Manirasakulam
camp not only remains. Their Political Wing leader, S.P. Tamilselvan,
told the media in Sampur (Trincomalee) on Friday the area has been
under LTTE "for a long time and it was unjust for the SLMM
or the Army to ask the LTTE to remove the camp." The Tamilnet
said he flew into Sampur in an Air Force helicopter from Batticaloa.
Earlier, he arrived in Batticaloa from the Wanni also in an Air
the Tamilnet report: "Mr Tamilchelvan said the LTTE camp at
Kurankupanchan had been there for a long period but the government
troops did not know the existence of the camp for several years,
as they couldn't go close to the LTTE held area during the war."
not want to make a big issue out of this Kurankupanchan camp issue.
But a section of the media and elements bent on disrupting the present
peace initiative are using the camp issue to the maximum to achieve
their ends," Mr. Tamilchelvam said.
to him, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission had believed the information
supplied by the Sri Lanka Army at the first instance without verifying
Pathuman interjected. It is like asking us to leave our own house
which has been in our control for a long time. We have the deeds.
There is no need for us to leave Kurankupanchan area..
advisable for the parties concerned to leave the matter aside, said
Mr. Tamilchelvan. Col. Pathuman pointed out that the SLA has recently
established a temporary camp just 4 km away from the Kurankupanchan
LTTE camp after this issue gained media attention."
The LTTE also
plans to open more camps in the Trincomalee district and argue the
Army has been doing the same in other areas. These developments
make it manifestly clear that the LTTE are pursuing their strategic
aim of dominating Government controlled areas in the eastern province.
This has always been an area in which Tamil community is in the
minority in this tri communal province.
LTTE have to dominate the eastern province if they are to secure
these territories as part of the so called Eelam. The eastern province
remains the strategic plum for this.