ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 09
Columns - Situation Report  

Security forces to control Eastern development

  • Foreign governments and agencies express concern over move, questions about aid
  • Guerrillas still active in the east as LTTE and troops prepare for major northern battles

By Iqbal Athas

New political alignments and a noticeable shift in the public mood have not deterred the Government from focusing greater attention on the one time battle zones of the East and the impending theatre of battles in the North. In the East where the Government claims that the Tiger guerrillas "have been completely driven away," a string of ambitious development programmes are to get under way. This is whilst the Government is drawing plans to take its "military victory" celebrations in the East to other provincial towns. A string of conferences at the Ministry of Defence this week saw the plans being knocked into shape.

One chaired by Karu Jayasuriya, Minister of Public Administration, focused on the immediate restoration of civil administration in the one time battle zones. That included placing on fast track the re-settlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the issue of National Identity Cards to those who do not possess them and a multitude of other issues. The time table to achieve these tasks has been set at 180 days.

The scene at Chettikulam after the Claymore mine explosion that killed 11 Army soldiers last Tuesday. Photo: Rajith Jayasundara

Another conference chaired by Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Minister of Highways and Road Development, will embark on infrastructure development. That includes health and education projects. These tasks will go beyond the 180 day limit.

Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Advisor to the President explained to representatives of International Non Governmental Organisations (INGOs), NGOs and representatives of the UN agencies the role the Government expects them to play in the Re-awakening East programme. A German INGO has already resumed work on a post-tsunami housing project in the Vakarai area. An American INGO, Government officials say, will embark on projects in three different villages in the Batticaloa district.

Last Wednesday, the commanding officer of the Army’s Task Force One, Brigadier C.P. Gallage, gave the National Security Council a detailed briefing of how operations to re-capture Toppigala were executed. This Task Force was responsible for the later stages of the military offensive that led to the capture of the area.

There is a very significant aspect to the Government's new development programme in the East. They will all be different to the procedures that existed before July 11 - the day of the re-capture of Toppigala which the Government claims led to Tiger guerrillas being "completely driven away." Both the Army and the Police will be involved at the grassroots level in all projects and programmes. One of them is to head Committees tasked with development work.

The Government believes that such a step is necessary to keep errant INGOs, NGOs and other international agencies under check. Officials argue that this mechanism will also help prevent possible Tiger guerrilla infiltration at the grassroots level. But some donor countries and international agencies are privately expressing serious reservations. They say their respective Governments and principals may spurn the idea of continued aid commitments since the new move brings the military and even the police directly into the development process. They say their concerns are heightened by the fact that instructions to enforce such measures have not gone from higher political authority but from a senior military official in the district.

Major General Parakrama Pannipitiya’s instructions.

The reference is to a directive sent out by Major General Parakrama Pannipitiya, Security Forces Commander, East. Following is an English translation of the instructions he has given to officials and senior security officials in the East:


"Rural development of areas liberated by the forces after the humanitarian operations, where there is a civil population must be done under the supervision of the Police stationed in the area as well as the Armed Forces. As the initial step, village level Committees must be established in each village for its development, and the membership of these Committees must be chosen from among the villagers. It will be mandatory to include in these Committees a member of the Armed Forces/STF, a Police officer, and Grama Niladhari serving in the respective village.

"The Committee should meet at least twice a month for discussions regarding rural development work where basic needs will be discussed. The necessary requirements will be submitted by the Grama Seva Niladhari to the Provincial Secretary and through him to the Divisional Secretary (GA). Copies of these discussions have to be sent by the President of the Committee, who is a member of the Police or Security Forces to our headquarters.

"In instances where NGOs are to engage in development projects, the rural Committees need to identify the recommended projects in order to get them attended to from the District Secretariat offices. Please note that in future NGOs should not be permitted to do as they please in these areas as before. In order to fulfill this work effectively, the relevant District Secretary, the Provincial Secretary and the Commanding Officers of different Army units in these areas, STF and SPs have to be well co-ordinated.

"To make these instructions as detailed above, effectively, the Police should take steps to name prospective representatives for each rural development Committee."

Major General Pannipitiya's instructions have been circulated among others to the Government Agents of of Police in Trincomalee, Batticaloa, Ampara, the Deputy Inspectors General of Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara, the Commandant of the Police Special Task Force (STF), Brigade Commanders of the Army's 22 and 23 Brigades as well as the head of the STF detachment in Batticaloa.

In a separate development, the 180-day development plan for the East is also drawing flak from sections of the Colombo-based diplomatic community. They point out that the same sense of urgency was missing when it came to formulation of political proposals to end the ethnic conflict. They say the process had been dragging on from month to month despite assurancs from the Government to the contrary. Hence, some argue this factor too would be weighed in when aid requirements are determined.

As revealed last week, the Police and more largely the Special Task Force (STF) is taking over responsibilities in areas re-captured by the Security Forces west of Batticaloa. Thus, the Army will be relieved for deployment in areas in the Wanni. As pointed out last week, contrary to Government claims that the guerrillas have been driven away, groups do operate in the East. Whilst some had moved out to areas in the Trincomalee district, others have taken up position in the Ampara district expanding their operations there. They had in fact shifted their intelligence base from Batticaloa to Ampara.

At the height of the military campaign to re-capture Toppigala, Military Intelligence reported that groups were making a gradual withdrawal from the area. They said the process was slow for two reasons -- to allow cadres to exit with their military hardware and the need to inflict more damage to the advancing troops. Guerrilla cadres who fled from Toppigala, MI sources say, moved into villages of Kumburupiddy, Kandalkadu, Kadawana and Peraru, all in the Trincomalee district. "Some have returned to Wanni whilst the other groups are still hovering around. Small group military operations are under way to smoke them out," one MI source said.

Major changes in the Army

Major General Jagath Jayasuriya was on Friday named as the new Security Forces Commander, Wanni.

The present incumbent, Major General Upali Edirisinghe, will take over as Director General - General Staff at Army Headquarters. Chief of Staff of the Army, Major General Lawrence Fernando, who was overlooking the post of DGGS has now relinquished that position.

In addition to his duties, Maj. Gen. Jayasuriya will also function as Colonel of the Mechanised Infantry Regiment.

This is a highlight of a number of top level postings effected by Army Headquarters on Friday. The changes will take effect immediately. Here are the other postings: Brigadier M.K. Jayawardena has been named as the new Area Commander, Weli Oya. He succeeds Major General Nimal Jayasuriya, who had been posted as Commander, Forward Maintenance Area (FMA) North. Major General Abdul Zaheer, who was Commander FMA North has been posted as FMA Commander, North Central.

Brigadier K.A.N.S.C.A. Dharmaratne, who functioned as Commander, FMA North Central will take over as officiating commander of the Southern Area Command based in Galle. Brigadier D.M.D. Alwis has been posted as Assistant Military Secretary at Arrmy Headquarters. He was previously commander at the Southern Area Command in Galle.

Brigadier S. Sooriyabandara, who was Security Co-ordinator at Army Headquarters has been posted as the General Officer Commanding (GOC) the Army's 53 Division. The post of Overall Security Co-ordinator at AHQ is being taken over by Brigadier D.A. Amunugama, who was Centre Commandant, Rear Headquarters, Sri Lanka Light Infantry. The present GOC (53 Division) Major General Srinath Rajapaksa has been attached to Army Headquarters. Taking over as Centre Commandant, RHQ SLLI will be Colonel W. Weerakkody.

Major General G.P.R.S. de Silva who was attached to Army Headquarters has been posted as the General Officer Commanding 21 Division.

Brigadier M.A.M. Dias, Director Training has been attached to Army Headquarters. Taking over his post will be Brigadier M.K.D. Perera, currently Commander, 551 Brigade. Appointed as officiating Commander of the 551 Brigade is Lt. Col. A.W.M.A.W.N. Ranawana, who was officiating Centre Commandant, Rear Headquarters of the Gajaba Regiment. Taking his place as Centre Commandant will be Lt. Col. C.J.S. Weerakoon, who was Colonel (General Staff) at the 23 Division. The latter position has been taken over by Lt. Col. D.A.P.N. Dematapitiya who was Commanding Officer, third battalion of Sri Lanka Signal Corps.

The fact that groups of guerrillas have shifted to Ampara and even set up an intelligence base there has raised concerns for the Military Intelligence. They said two guerrilla intelligence leaders who operated from Batticaloa, Throwner and Keerthie, have now moved to this new base. The loss of Toppigala, Vakarai and immediate environs, they fear, would lead to the guerrillas once again trying to resume operations in the deep South. This is particularly by using Block II of the Yala national park as a staging area to re-supply their cadres in the Ampara district. Since guerrilla activity in these areas receded some years ago, there has been lesser regular maritime surveillance in the deep seas off Yala. This is with the exception of Navy's interception of guerrilla military hardware in the high seas upon receipt of credible information.

Thus, small groups of guerrillas linger around in the East trying to attack vital targets including senior Government, military and Police officials among others. This is whilst the Government has drawn in both the Army and the Police to get directly involved in development activity at the grassroots level.

This shifts the main military focus to the North. Interesting enough, both the Security Forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are engaged in preparations for battles. The Army has stepped up its recruitment drive.

Army Headquarters launched a recruitment drive on July 1 to enlist 7500 soldiers to the regular force. This was part of the overall plan to enhance the Army strength by a further 25,000. By early this week, sources at Army Headquarters said only a total of 1800 had been enlisted. This is after recruitment procedures were relaxed. Earlier, regiments were allowed to recruit personnel only from locations where their headquarters were positioned. For example, the Sinha Regiment recruitment was from the Kegalle or the Gemunu Watch Regiment from Ratnapura. This time, however, they were allowed to recruit from any area in the country. Besides the 1,800 enlisted to the regular force, a further 950 have been enlisted for volunteer units. The recruitment drive will end on August 15.

Though a major Security Forces offensive in the North is yet to start, troops have been engaged in limited offensives in the Wanni sector. Three different attempts to seize guerrilla held areas in the past weeks have met with stiff resistance. On Tuesday, a guerrilla claymore mine hit a bus carrying troops killing 11 soldiers. Six others were seriously injured. The Air Force has been conducting several sorties with the Kfir and MiG-27 bombers in the North.

Still unaware from where the main thrust of the Security Forces would come, Tiger guerrillas have been fortifying their defended localities in a number of sectors. According to NGO workers and civilians who returned from the North this week, the Tiger guerrilla military leadership in Kilinochchi was busy intensifying security measures in the wake of feared offensives. From the accounts they gave, a picture of how such measures were falling into place emerged.

In the Government controlled-Jaffna peninsula, LTTE was stepping up its small group operations. Cadres were infiltrating the peninsula from the outlying islands and from the vast stretches at Ariyalai and Thannankilappu. They have been tasked to carry out IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) attacks on targets that include troops deployed at strategic locations. Intelligence groups had slipped in to obtain information on civilians who are helping the Security Forces by providing information. Guerrilla defences at Muhamalai and Nagar kovil were being strengthened. Additional cadres and weaponry were being moved in.

In the Wanni, east of the defended localities at the Omanthai Entry-Exit point, the stretch of "no man's land" before Security Forces defences, had been heavily mined. IEDs have also been placed at various points. Intelligence cadres have also infiltrated controlled areas, particularly in and around Vavuniya, to gather intelligence.

One of the biggest guerrilla build-ups is in the Weli Oya sector. Some of the cadres who had returned from Toppigala are being positioned there. Guerrilla mortar positions have increased posing threats to Security Forces locations. In addition, a Military Intelligence source said guerrilla recruitment teams have forcibly inducted school children in the area, mostly over 15 years, to undergo military training. The intention is to supplement them with guerrilla cadres to strengthen their vulnerable points.

In addition, reports say, the Sea Tigers are also enhancing preparations. The western seaboard has seen enhanced Sea Tiger activity which senior security officials believe related to smuggling in military hardware, some of them from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Radio intercepts have revealed that Sea Tiger leader Soosai (Thillaiampalam Sivanesan) who was operating from his "headquarters" somewhere near Kilinochchi had been speaking to installations of his sea going arm at Pooneryn and to boats operating in the Gulf of Mannar regularly in the past week. Similar radio conversations had also gone on this week.

The Government now has a two fold responsibility in the East - firstly it would be to carry out the development work, most of it within 180 days. Secondly, it has to ensure the security situation remains favourable by preventing any attacks by the guerrillas.
In the North, the military and the guerrillas are gearing themselves for major battles. The coming weeks will show how the undeclared Eelam War IV will guide the destinies of a nation already rocked by an economic and political crisis.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.