The Special Report

5th March 2000

On the spot

By Leon Berenger In Trincomalee

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The LTTE appears to have increased its activities in this volatile eastern port city of Trincomalee with a spate of attacks on military targets including at least one attempted assassination on a top security forces official.

It all began early last week when the LTTE exploded a landmine at Salli, a pre-dominant Tamil village under a Navy vehicle killing at least three ratings and wounding several more.

This was followed by the alleged counter- attack by the navy which saw at least 15 homes being seriously damaged. The LTTE waited a day, before launching another land mine attack on a navy tractor at Nilaveli some 16 kilometres north of Trincomalee town. One rating was killed and another seriously wounded in the attack.

The most serious of the attacks was when the LTTE attempted a high profile hit when a female suicide bomber tried to jump on to the moving jeep of the district's Brigade Commander Col. Piyal Abeysekera on Thursday morning. The Colonel escaped but his driver was killed and two more from his back up security seriously wounded in the attack which occurred at Inner Harbour Road, close to the town.

Military sources have warned of more impending LTTE attacks in the area, saying there appears to be a rebel build-up on the outskirts.

Senior security officials believe the LTTE has decided to start intimidation and harassment tactics to disrupt the civil administration that has picked up rapidly.

Only hours before the suicide bomber struck, residents and businessmen were telling this correspondent they were relieved that the situation was almost back to normal with the LTTE deciding to spare this town and concentrate its war elsewhere in the Wanni and Batticaloa regions.

Even business was picking up and people went about their work late into the night, unlike in Batticaloa and Vavuniya where life comes to a standstill at dusk.

But the recent attacks by the LTTE particularly Thursday's strike on the Brigade Commander would only put things once more in reverse as a cloud of uncertainty mixed with tension creeps into the region.

Meanwhile as soldiers take the thick of the fighting on the frontlines, more and more police personnel are being drawn into operational areas both in the north and east and it is no different in Trincomalee.

This is an additional duty for police who must also keep the law and order among the civilians. But now there is no turning back and so policemen in bunkers are increasing in numbers.

"Despite a sense of normalcy in Trincomalee at the moment, the threat of LTTE attacks is always present. The town is always crowded making search operations more complicated," said the area's police chief Senior Superintendent K.P.P. Pathirana.

He said several pre-emptive precautions, were being taken to surprise the enemy.

He also said the police had launched many public relations drives starting with primary schools to places of religious worship to encourage people to get more involved in keeping the peace.One such project was a model park that was being put up by the police with the participation of students and teachers.

The police also conduct regular cordon and search operations by a special unit-Operation team- comprising both male and female military personnel.

"Operations are carried out on a daily basis to show the LTTE that we have not put-down our guard," said ASP Jayantha Wickremesinghe. The most worrying issue for the police and security forces is the threat of LTTE piracy on the high seas where victims are the local fishermen.

Another problem that affects both the Navy and fishermen is that fishing activity after dusk helps to cover up LTTE operatives and infiltrators who are also active around the same time.

"The LTTE has on many occasions attacked naval boats anchored in the area, and the Navy has to remain alert at all times. But now with so many fishing craft all over the place it is difficult to identify the rebel infuiltrator," one senior security force official said.

"If fishing is banned it would only result in the fisherfolk being forced out of their livelihood- a move that would only favour the separatists' bloody cause," a mlitary official who did not wish to be named told The Sunday Times.

It was only a few days before that Sea Tigers had forcibly taken away a fishing vessel along with its three-member crew to the coast in Muttur, some local fishermen said.

Several days after the incident a group of fishermen had gone to Muttur to persuade the LTTE to release the fishermen, only to return empty handed with an assurance that the crew would not be harmed and would be released sometime later on.

To add to their plight, on their return to the shores off Trincomalee the fishermen who undertook the trip were questioned by the military authorities on their meeting with the rebels.

Such is the frustration of the fishermen that they recently exploded in rage in the main town square protesting against the lack of security for them and their families.

Hundreds of fishermen armed with swords and other sharp weapons stormed the town but were eventually forced to withdraw under a hail of police tear gas and bullets that were fired into the air. The fiasco ended with the arrest of 16 fishermen who were later produced before local magistrates and remanded.

Meanwhile helping the police are para-military groups such as homeguards who help guard villages on the vulnerable border areas and the coast where there is a high level of LTTE activity.

The police along with the military has also begun issuing special identity cards to all registered residents in the city and other areas.

This special card helps to identify the outsiders who have entered the city, ASP Bandula Rajapakse said. Despite the uncertian situation in the area there are still those entrepreneurs who refuse to quit come what may, and among them are the hoteliers who have been able to survive the tide.

Prem Kumar is the Resident Manager for the Nilaveli Beach Hotel at Nilaveli which is a high-risk area some 16 kilometres north of the main town, and he is not willing to budge.

"The threat has always been there but these things don't frighten us. Combatants on both sides of the conflict have spared us. So there is no case of a security threat in my hotel," Kumar added.

He added that the hotel has constantly received guests both foreign and local, and the place is practically full during long weekends, bombs or no bombs.

Smaller guest houses in the town are also reporting brisk business and echoed similar sentiments made by Prem Kumar.

The owner of a small hotel Downtown, Sivarajan Shine too says he will never put up shutters, adding that the situation in Trincomalee has been blown out of proportion, in other parts of the country, thereby discouraging people from visiting the region. "This attitude must change if there is to be a boost to this trade in the town," he said.

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