Situation Report

19th March 2000

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Troops and Tigers bracing themselves at Elephant Pass

Suicide killer reveals plot to kill minister

The uneasy lull in the Elephant Pass sector, now the only major battleground for security forces and Tiger guerrillas, may not last long.

If the two sides were playing a waiting game in the past weeks, there were strong indications that the LTTE had stepped up preparations for renewed battles, particularly in the southern FDLs.

Earlier reports spoke of an estimated 1,500 cadres being trained with sand models and cut-outs of security forces defences in the Elephant Pass sector. This was whilst the LTTE mounted some psychological warfare on the security forces. They feigned that training was being conducted in the use of some unidentified chemicals. Radio intercepts spoke of guerrillas wearing gas masks and taking part in mock attacks. At least this aspect, intelligence officials found, was being staged for the consumption of the security forces. Confirmation came from some of those who surrendered or were arrested.

Yet, there were various other preparations under way. Civilians were being trained to handle weapons. Some of them have been issued with rifles seized when Tigers overran military installations in the Wanni. Some of them in age groups above 60 were being trained in various chores to support guerrillas in combat.

Early this week, intelligence sources learnt that men and logistics were being moved to positions south east of Elephant Pass. Two LTTE military wing leaders, Balraj and Theepan have been inspecting the build up north of Kilinochchi, facing the southern end of Elephant Pass. They were also moving around Murasumodai and Wattakatchi.

The latest build up came just days after the head of the LTTE's artillery and heavy weapons section, Banu escaped an air raid. Air Force Kfir ground attack aircraft pounded LTTE positions in the Wanni killing three and wounding 30 others.

Intelligence sources say the latest preparations are a prelude to a renewed assault on the Elephant Pass sector, which the LTTE has been trying to overrun since December 11, last year. The Army has virtually doubled its strength by deploying the 53 Division including elements of the Special Forces and the Air Mobile Brigade into the Elephant Pass sector. This sector has earlier been home for the 54 Division.

"They are trying hard for a dramatic victory at Elephant Pass before the peace talks materialise," one high ranking intelligence source said. With this in mind, the LTTE has also created competition among its various intelligence groups from areas they hold have been tasked to carry out attacks on VIPs and economic targets, particularly in the City, the source said. "Hence, threat levels in the City will remain high," the source warned.

In the wake of this build up, the military is also preparing its own response. For obvious reasons, one cannot elaborate on them except to say their thrust will be to deny Tiger guerrillas any further gains and evict them.

In an apparent prelude to a renewed major strike at Elephant Pass, the LTTE has continued with its campaign to destabilise the Jaffna peninsula. In the south western part of the peninsula, regular mortar bombardments are being carried out at Tanankilappu, Muhavil, and Ariyalai areas. Similarly, even villages in the eastern sector of Elephant Pass, Thadduwankody, Thatta-ntottam and adjoining areas have also been facing regular mortar fire. Reports also spoke of increased infiltration into the peninsula by Tiger cadres who are planning to attack security forces convoys and check-points.

Whilst focusing on the increasing threats in Elephant Pass and the neighbouring Jaffna peninsula, the security establishment had to cope this week with threats in the City posed by suicide cadres who plan to attack VIPs and vital installations. A series of new security measures have been decided upon.

Interrogation of Tiger cadres in custody have revealed plans by suicide cadres. One suspect now under interrogation has revealed how he had been tasked to collect information on Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, Minister of Plan Implementation and Parliamentary Affairs. He had visited the Minister's Negombo residence carrying a letter from a former MP. He had even obtained a letter from Minister Fernandopulle to expedite the issue of a National Identity Card. In effect, his mission was to study details of the house, the routes for entry, exit, and security measures that were in place. He had later reported the details on the telephone to an LTTE cadre in Batticaloa who was dealing with his assignment. The 23 year old youth could not proceed further as he fell into Police custody.

As reported in these columns on March 5,on a tip off from the Special Task Force, the commando arm of the Police alerted Police in Negombo. Plainclothesmen were deployed for days in the Negombo bus station and other public areas. They moved around without raising suspicions. On February 23, some of these men saw a young man walking away with a parcel.

A check revealed that he was one of the men the Police were after. The courier, however, had made good his escape. Police found that the parcel of explosives were in three slabs, each containing ball bearings. There was also a detonator cord switch. Police said the slabs came in ready-made to be inserted into suicide jackets.

Police found the explosives were meant to be used by a suicide cadre to attack a "liberty bus" that operates daily from the Sri Lanka Air Force base at Katunayake to Army Headquarters in Colombo. With repairs to the runway at the SLAF base in Ratmalana still being carried out, troop movements to the north are from Katunayake. The suicide bomber was to intercept the bus at Periyamulla junction.

The man arrested was C. Robert Pushparajah alias Chuttie, a resident of Kallady, Batticaloa. In late 1998, he had arrived in Negombo accompanying a priest from Batticaloa.

An year later, two LTTE cadres had contacted him outside the Negombo Base Hospital. They were couriers and were being handled by Yogaraj who operated from Batticaloa.

In late 1999 Pushparajah has been given training in handling Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs), in a safe house at Arasaditivu in Batticaloa.

He was given Rs. 2000 and sent to Negombo. He was tasked with the responsibility of collecting information on transformers, petrol bowsers, lorries carrying gas cylinders and movement of trains in the Negombo area. He was also issued with a cellular phone which he had used regularly to telephone his handler in Batticaloa and pass on the information he had collected.

After his return to Negombo, he had a visitor Sivamani Aiya, a tea kiosk owner in Periya Porativu (Batticaloa), who had been introduced to him during training. Sivamani Aiya brought him the parcels containing high explosives, batteries and related items.

Pushparajah has confessed to Police he had assembled an IED using some of the high explosives.

He had placed them in an empty tin of Baby Cheramy talcum powder. That IED was used to destroy a CEB transformer at Kochchikade on December 30, 1999. Between conducting reconnaissance, Pushaparajah had made visits to Batticaloa to report to his handlers.

On January 6, 2000, Sivamani Aiya had arrived in Batticaloa again with a stock of high explosives. Like the earlier occasion he had been accompanied by his two children, ten and six years old. Pushparajah had used these explosives to assemble an IED in a plastic lunch box. This was placed in the compartment of a train. It exploded on the night of January 10. Thereafter, he had received a telephone call on January 21, from LTTE cadres in Batticaloa informing him that another stock of explosives would arrive in Negombo.

On February 23, 2000 Sivamani Aiya arrived in Negombo and met Puspharajah opposite a private nursing home. This time Sivamani Aiya was in the company of his six-year-old son and another unidentified person, who spoke fluent Sinhala. The tall, medium built and fair person was not introduced by name to Pushparajah though he said he believed him to be a Tamil. The latter had handed over a bag containing high explosives and other items before departing.

Pushparajah had boarded a bus at Kochchikade but when he arrived at Kattuwa junction the unidentified youth had met him again. He had told him that some "more goods" (suspected to be explosives) were to be handed over to him. Both had later travelled to Colombo. When he returned alone, Pushparajah fell into the hands of the Police.

During his stay in Negombo, Pushparajah had worked as a carpenter, at a fuel station, a pharmacy, and a tailor shop. It has now come to light that Pushparajah's handler, Yogaraj worked directly under Ramanan, the LTTE intelligence leader in the Batticaloa district. He is said to be the main man responsible for directing IED attacks on economic targets in the City.

P. Sulochanadevi, a Tiger cadre arrested in August, last year, at Madulsima by the Police Special Task Force with explosives is also learnt to have been handled by Yogaraj.

Pushparajah is learnt to have confessed to Police that he was prepared to carry out a suicide attack on Minister Fernandopulle when he was ordered to do so. It was with this in mind that he had frequented the Minister's residence to make observations.

Pushparajah's move was reminiscent of another similar infiltration by an LTTE cadre, Babu alias Kulaweerasingham Weera-kumar, who infiltrated "Sucharita," late President Ranasinghe Premadasa's residence at Hulftsdorp. He later became Mr. Premadasa's assassin.

The explosives he possessed at the time of his arrest, Pushparajah has told Police, was to be used on Army convoys passing through Y junction and Periyamulla and on another location along Divulapitiya Road. He identified the spots where he was to place the explosive devices when Police drove him to the area.

The fact that the LTTE possessed large stocks of high explosives and have secured more sophisticated weaponry has caused serious concerns for the Ministry of Defence. During the March 10 attacks at Castle Street, Rajagiriya, at least two rounds of Light Anti-tank Weapons (LAW) were fired while security forces seized unused ones.

The influx of weapons to the LTTE has prompted the Ministry of Defence to order a full study of how weapons are smuggled into the country. The task has been placed in charge of a team led by Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Cecil Tissera. The Navy chief gave the team a presentation on how LTTE weapons smuggling activities are carried out. This was based on a similar presentation he made to the National Security Council some months ago.

Needless to say that ineffective policing of the seas around Sri Lanka is the primary cause for weapons smuggling, the main reason why the LTTE has been able to conduct a high intensity conflict over the years. Vice Admiral Tissera has complained of lack of adequate resources to meet policing requirements. However, other senior Navy officials believe the urgent need of the hour is to maximise utilisation of resources already available and thus relieve the Government of heavy financial burdens. They point out that more resources meant heavier financial commitments, which the country can ill afford. Another factor they point out are the ill effects caused by hurried procurements sans tender and other procedures. One recent case in point is the controversial acquisition by the Navy of two patrol craft from Israel which were over 20 years old.

Also causing concern to the Navy is an incident in the Palk Straits on March 12. Navy Fast Attack Craft (P 450 and P 451) deployed south east of Delft Island (seven and half nautical miles) and south west of Karativu Island (five and half nautical miles) spotted two suspicious trawlers moving close to each other. They were among a flotilla of other Indian fishing trawlers.

The two FACs had been deployed after radio intercepts by the Naval Base in Talaimannar of plans by the LTTE to launch an attack on Naval craft. This was to be carried out by suicide cadres using an explosive laden boat, Navy officials believed.

Navy officials claimed that the FACs fired at the two suspicious trawlers. One exploded killing all its occupants. The second trawler was also attacked and destroyed, they said.

They claimed when the attack went on, two LTTE craft had been launched from Devil's Point area for assistance. Navy officials also claimed they attacked these boats too forcing them to withdraw. Three occupants of the second trawler (bearing identification number RMS 125) were rescued and it turned out that those on board were Indian nationals.

Due to the explosion, one sailor was killed and four others were injured. The FAC (450) was slightly damaged. The three Indian fishermen have been identified as Isaimuthu Alahesan (40), Jesudason Trudeyarai (47) and Susaidasan (45). All three were from separate villages in Tamil Nadu.

Navy officials point out that a similar suicide attempt using an explosive laden trawler was carried out by the LTTE off the coast of Mullaitivu on December 8, last year. "Use of Indian trawlers to transport their warlike materials (medicine, spare parts, and patients) are frequently attempted by the LTTE," a Navy official said. He added "the latest major apprehension was the incident off Iranativu on November 24, last year, where P 462 FAC recovered large quantities of items and apprehended two Indian nationals."

Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Chandrananda de Silva, has called for a report from Navy Commander, Vice Admiral Tissera, on the latest incident involving the Indian fishing trawler. Indications are that the ongoing lull in the northern theatre will end and tighter security in the City and suburbs maintained to prevent suicide attacks. The coming weeks will keep Colombo's security establishment on high gear.

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