Situation Report

11th June 2000

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Attacks disrupt KKS port and Palaly airfield


The Competent Authority has censored some parts of today's Situation Report. The Sunday Times has been cpmpelled to delete some of the casualty figures the Censor has introduced into the Situation Report after deleting what appears in the original copy.

The censor has also deleted some parts of the Situation Report approved last week and published in The Sunday Times of Jine 4.

A map of the Jaffna peninsula marking out the areas where the troops are attempting to oust the Tiger guerrillas has also been completely censored.

For a second time in three months of bitter fighting in the north, security forces launched an operation at pre-dawn on Friday to secure lost territory. This time it was focussed only on the village of   censored   which lies in the eastern part of the Jaffna peninsula.

By noon on Friday, troops had succeeded in pushing the Tigers over one and half kilometres from their positions. Fifteen soldiers were killed in fierce battles and an unknown number wounded during the morning.

Troops began to consolidate in their new defensive positions when something unexpected happened. Artillery and mortar fire began to rain on their new positions. In the open terrain, the barrages were so heavy. One officer and 24 soldiers were killed by evening. Additions were made here by the censor and have been deleted by The Sunday Times. Censored

A second effort to drive the LTTE out of Sarasalai turned out to be difficult but senior Army officials insisted they would not give up.

In a press release from its "International Secretariat" in London on Friday night, the LTTE claimed Kfir interceptor jets involved in the operation had "bombarded the area indiscriminately."

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A high ranking Army official in Colombo, however, dismissed the claim. He said "this is all part of their (LTTE's) propaganda."

In another press release on Friday night, the LTTE said it had urged resident representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) to "help arrange a temporary cessation of armed hostilities" between security forces and the Tigers to facilitate what it called the   censored

There was no immediate Government response to the latest call.

This is the second time troops made a strong bid to re-capture Sarasalai. The first came on May 29 when troops launched an offensive on LTTE positions in Chavakacheri, Ariyalai and Sarasalai areas.

This is how the Special Media Information Centre officially described the launch of this operation.

"On 29 May 2000 troops occupying forward defences in general areas Chavakachcheri, Ariyalai and Sarasalai advanced from two locations towards enemy held area. Troops supported by Artillery and Mortars assaulted a bunker line of the terrorists. During this assault security forces inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy.

"Monitored LTTE transmissions revealed that a large number of terrorists were killed and wounded during the assault. Subsequent to the confrontation security forces recovered 14 dead bodies of terrorists. Seven soldiers were killed during the operation and 32 were wounded".

As reported in these columns (Situation Report June 4), if the SMIC sitrep was the first official revelation that troops had launched their first major offensive since their censored withdrawal from the Elephant Pass Defence Complex,   censored

That operation began before the crack of dawn on Monday with troops, under cover of artillery and mortars, assaulting LTTE's newly captured positions at Chavakachcheri, Ariyalai and Sarasalai. They met with stiff resistance during attacks at the first two LTTE positions. However, at Sarasalai troops fought fierce battles to push the LTTE by over two kilometres by late afternoon on Monday. However, later that evening, a heavy enemy thrust had forced the troops back to their original positions. By next morning, Tuesday, the operation was called off.

As reported last week, there has been a relative calm in the battlefields in the past weeks with the exception of artillery and mortar duels. That is with the exception of last Friday's offensive to re-capture Sarasalai.

However, fighting from the battleground shifted to the high seas last Monday. Hours before dawn, a flotilla of Sea Tiger boats attacked a convoy of Naval craft escorting troops leaving the Jaffna peninsula on home leave a daily feature with the induction of fresh troops after the fighting escalated in the north.

Two ships with 300 soldiers on board on each left the high seas off the peninsula and were headed for Trincomalee. The regular practice was for the Fast Attack Craft assigned to the Sri Lanka Navy's Northern Naval Command to escort them to the seas of Vettilaikerni. From this point, where the area of control of the northern Naval area ends, Fast Attack Craft of the Eastern Naval area (headquartered in Trincomalee) take over.

Last Monday, before dawn, a flotilla of Sea Tiger boats surprised the Naval convoy, 12 nautical miles off Chalai (a coastal village north of Mullaitivu). Their target was to assault the two ships carrying 600 soldiers. Men in Navy's Fast Attack Crafts from the Northern Naval area performed a creditable task warding off the Sea Tiger boats, some heavily laden with explosives, from reaching the two vessels carrying the soldiers. They arranged for the two vessels to immediately return to their point of departure. In the gun battles that ensued through the crack of dawn, Tiger gun fire hit Fast Attack Craft 496 a Dvora type vessel built by the Colombo Dockyard. Another FAC, 482 built in the United States by Trinity Marine, moved alongside to rescue seven men from FAC 496. Shortly thereafter, the badly damaged FAC sank.

As the high sea battles raged, more Naval craft from the Navy's Northern and Eastern Commands, joined in the battle. The Navy called in for air support from the Sri Lanka Air Force. It was morning and the sun was shining brightly censored the crew of FAC 496 had been transferred into another vessel.Censored

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Navy Headquarters later said that one officer was killed in action. Twenty three others have been declared missing in action. It said 15 more personnel were wounded.

The Commander of the Sri Lanka Air Force, Air Marshal Jayalath Weerakoddy, promptly appointed a Court of Inquiry to ascertain the circumstances under which an Air Force jet bombed censored

The two Fast Attack Craft with sophisticated on board equipment is estimated to cost 10 million US dollars (or around Rs 144 million). In April, Tigers destroyed two Dvora Fast Attack Craft off the shores of Nagarkovil (north of Mullaitivu). They were also estimated to cost US dollars 10 million. For the two months alone, the Navy has lost four FACs valued at around 20 million us Dollars (or Rs 288 million).

These losses come as a heavy burden on the Sri Lanka Navy which has to cope with the responsibility of handling the bulk of supplies and movement of troops to the Jaffna peninsula. Continuing artillery and mortar fire has made the port of Kankesanturai non-operational thus making the Navy's task difficult. Consequently, all loading and unloading operations are being carried out in safe areas, in the high seas off the Jaffna peninsula. Compounding the situation further is the closure of the Palaly airfield for fixed wing aircraft following heavy artillery and mortar attacks. In other words, the two main supply routes to the Jaffna peninsula, the KKS port and Palaly airfield, remain disrupted. That is in the backdrop of no land based Main Supply Route (MSR) being available.

The two offensives the security forces have launched so far, quite clearly indicate, that they are trying hard to wrest the initiative from the Tigers. More so with the arrival of newer weapons, particularly the Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs). If those supplied by Pakistan are now being put to maximum use, there was more good news for the Government last week. The Czech Republic has gifted 24 MBRLs containing 40 barrels each. China has also gifted two MBRLs, a

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The LTTE, on the other hand, are re-grouping. Intelligence sources confirm they are busy making preparations for a surprise attack any time now.

In fact, they sprung a surprise attack last Wednesday to mar the nationally observed War Heroes Day, marked for the first time in the 17 year long separatist war. This was when a suicide bomber flung himself before Industrial Development Minister, C.V. Gooneratne, when he was collecting public donations for the security forces close to the Golumadama junction.

Ironically, the fact that VIPS were under threat that day was discussed at a top level conference at the Ministry of Defence just four days earlier Friday, June 2. This was after the receipt of credible intelligence of LTTE plans to mar the War Heroes Day. Whether the warning was passed down to men from the Ministerial Security Division guarding Cabinet Ministers remains a mystery. If indeed they were told, the question arises as to why adequate precautions were not taken. On the other hand, it becomes an onerous task for those involved in close protection groups to prevent Ministers from making public contact when the occasion involved collecting donations. Needless to say the entire aspect of VIP protection requires a fresh look.

But the incident, like similar ones in the past, has only gone to confirm that the LTTE has continued to retain its strike capability in the City. This is despite the deployment of thousands of troops and policemen in and around the City with check-points and sand bagged barriers dotting every Censoredinter-section. Intelligence reports also speak of plans by LTTE to carry out other attacks censored

A western intelligence agency has also cautioned the Government of the latter.

If the Ratmalana incident is a distraction from the fighting in the north, the focus once again turns to the Jaffna peninsula, where both the security forces and the Tigers are bracing themselves for fresh offensives.

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