19th October 1997

Clockwork scenarios and the reality

By Taraki

LTTE cadres relax on top a demobilised tank of the Army
While the nation's attention was riv eted to the massive blast in Fort, the LTTE quietly acquired a strategically important piece of real estate in the eastern province without firing a shot.

The Army closed down eight camps in Muthur this week. This will combine the vast Vakarai region in the northern part of the Batticaloa district and the Trincomalee district's southern sector along with its long coast into one large contiguous area under the dominant military influence of the LTTE. The organisation lost about 800 square kilometres in the Jaffna to the army in Riviresa.(The peninsula is 1006 sq. km in extent of which the army had about 200 sq. km was in the army's hands before Riviresa)

But the Tigers gained 2300 sq. km in the east after the army vacated forty four camps in the Batticaloa district. The closure of the eight camps in Muthur will add at least another 1000 sq. km to this territory controlled by the Tigers in the east now. It is clear that the organisation wants to consolidate its hold on this large piece of real estate by systematically 'softening' up the STF, army and Police positions on, and beyond, the western borders of the districts of the eastern province. The continuing attacks in this sector - the last being Arantalawa - is a clear indication of this.

It may not take long for the organisation to apply pressure on the few Police posts which have been precariously left behind in Muthur. The government's hold on the Verugal Muthur trunk road will also go. This is the vital coastal route which links the Batticaloa district to Trincomalee. The Tigers completely control the southern part of this road between Valaichenai and the Verugal river.

The Vakarai coast played a very important role in the Sea Tiger operations which helped the LTTE prepare for Jaya sikurui's onslaught in the Wanni. It was able to transport, encamp and send by sea to Mullaitivu about 1200 cadres along with medical and other supplies solely because the large Vakarai region and its long coast were under its complete control. Otherwise this would have been a task well nigh impossible logistically given its scale. The army in Batticaloa had clear reports about 'Tiger gunboats' anchored off the Vakarai shore and about the busloads of Tigers who were being brought in to be sent on their way to Mullaitivu.

Nothing could be done.

Neutralising the Vakarai coast and its vast hinterland would require significant withdrawals of forces from the north.

But strategically the more important coastal point on the eastern sea board for the operations of the Sea Tigers is the land mass which forms the southeastern segment of the Kottiyar bay's curve defined on its west by the Muthur town and to its east by the light house at Foul point.

This segment consists the three large Tamil villages of Kattaiparichchaan, Seynaiyur and Sambur and the jungle hamlets of Koonithivu, Ilanthathurai, and Soodaikudah. All these have direct or near access to the Kottiyar bay. The village of Kattaiparichchaan lies at the entrance of the lagoon which separates mainland Muthur from the southeastern segment of the bay's curve.

The army's main military base in the Muthur region is in Kattaiparichchaan.

The Kattaparichchaan camp was established in late 1990 after Special Forces commandos fought a bitter battle with the Liberation Tigers.

The camp is strategically located to supervise and prevent any possible troop build- up by the Liberation Tigers in the area that could pose a direct threat to the vital Trincomalee Naval base and harbour and to deny them access to the Foul Point which is considered a vantage position on the southern sea approach to the Trincomalee harbour. The base also protects the bridge that links the Muthur mainland with the area which we are talking about here. The LTTE was able to plan, and carry out attacks in the Trincomalee naval base from the Ilanthathurai coast despite the army's presence at Kattaiparichchaan.

The camp would be vacated by tomorrow according to reports from the area.

The southeastern segment of the Kottiyar bay and its secure coast have traditionally been important to the armed Tamil groups as the most vital transit point for sea operations between the north and the east.

The other detachments that have been pulled out until yesterday are Mallikaithivu, Palaththoppur junction , Pachchanur, Mahindapura, Pansalgodalla, Selvanagar, 64th Colony and Sittaaru. The camps were set up to hold the vital Verugal -Muthur trunk road and to protect several Sinhala settlements.

Small units of the Sri Lankan Police were deployed in Pansalgodalla, 64th Colony and Pachchanur as soon the army vacated their positions in these villages.

A member of the PLOTE which maintains a camp by the side of the army detachment at Palaththoppur junction said that the Police might find it difficult to withstand the Tigers if the army is not present to rush to their help or take on the attackers with artillery or mortar fire . The LTTE has already torched and destroyed the vacated army positions in Muthur. The army is most probably pulling out troops from Muthur to beef up its units fighting in the eastern sector of the Kanakarayan Kulam jungles in the Wanni and to engage in holding operations in some forward areas captured there.

Herein lies the dilemma the army faces in fighting the Tigers in the north and the east. It has to abandon territory and population to the LTTE in the east to meet the increasing resource demands of the expanding theatre of operations in the Wanni. When the army does this, the LTTE is in a position to recruit and send manpower from the east to Mullaitivu with greater facility . This in turn 'deepens' the theatre of operations in the Wanni, placing more demands on the security forces for manpower (both for holding and offensives) and military resources.

But the army's planners seem to assume that the LTTE's strategic military strength can be destroyed in the Wanni ultimately by Operation Jaya Sikurui. Hence the dilemma we speak about here is irrelevant to them.

It is always somewhat late when people realise that the Eelam War is much more complex than the clockwork scenarios which such assumptions tend to produce.

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