Situation Report
By Iqbal Athas
17th February 2002
The Sunday Times on the Web















Tigers smuggle in supplies whilst Navy is busy with parades

A Sea Tiger base in the western coastal village of Viduthaltivu, near Mannar, was the venue for a meeting of senior Tiger guerrilla cadres in the Wanni last month.

Mannar district leader, Jeyam, the man tasked by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, to be in charge of surveillance duties in the Wanni, held forth for an hour. He had a clear message the peace process may or may not be successful but the LTTE must be prepared to wage war if it becomes necessary.

Those taking part were senior cadres in the Political and Military wings. Others included those responsible for logistics and fund raising.

Jeyam's message appeared to echo the sentiments of almost every leader in LTTE dominated areas. Their words, striking enough, were matched by hectic action on the ground. Recruitment, sometimes forced, fund raising, stock-piling of war like material including dual purpose items and smuggling of unidentified consignments through the deep seas off the north east coast continues at a pace.

Government leaders and officials responsible for the defence establishment are extremely cautious to ensure no action, military or otherwise, offends the LTTE and derails the peace process. So much so, some of the measures that would enhance greater military preparedness have been put on hold. One of them was an ambitious plan to recruit 10,000 men to the Army. The countrywide enlistment programme was to have been launched with the dawn of the New Year last month.

Since responding to the LTTE's offer of a cessation of hostilities on Christmas eve, last year, and repeating it last month, neither the security forces nor the police have embarked on any common programme to ensure military preparedness and readiness for combat. That is, to use guerrilla Jeyam's own words, to be prepared to wage war if it becomes necessary. Barring the efforts of a few professional field commanders, who carry out routine training whilst on deployment, there is none in place to match the LTTE preparations. Even if it is no secret, the public at large had only gleanings of what is going on from daily news releases of the Government Information Department. This is now issued only after the Operational Headquarters of the MoD, obtains prior clearance from Defence Secretary, Austin Fernando.

Hardly a day passes without the news releases making references to LTTE activity, particularly in the east, where there are no distinct lines of control between areas dominated by the security forces/Police and the guerrillas. These are said to be the areas where the civilians are facing greater difficulties, ones they did not encounter when a 'cessation of hostilities' was not in force. A sample of details contained in news releases from Monday to Friday, this week, gives an idea:

MONDAY: Trincomalee: A Muslim farmer who was abducted by a group of armed LTTE cadres from the general area of Elephant Island, about 4 _km. South of TRINCOMALEE town on 5th February 2002 along with seven other farmers had been released on 8th February 2002.

Six of them were released the same day after warning them against a promised payment of Rs. 1000 from each to the LTTE organisation in return.

K.A. SAHAYIH in SAFINAGAR, MUTUR who was held back was asked to pay a sum of Rs. 150,000 for his release.

However, K.A. SAHAYIH was released on 08 February when his wife and children visited RAKKULI area where he was being detained.

TUESDAY: Trincomalee: Troops on a routine patrol in the general area of ALANKERNI, about 11 km. southwest of TRINCOMALEE town had observed a gathering of some persons and approached them for a security check on 10 February around 11.30 a.m.

When checked, troops had found a receipt book with its counterfoils in their possession.

The receipts had been issued to civilians in exchange of the taxes paid to the LTTE for their fishing boats.

Troops sent these LTTE men back to uncleared areas.

WEDNESDAY: Trincomalee: A Police mobile patrol had observed two persons with a radio communication set walking in the general area of KANTALAI and stopped them for check on 11th February 2002 around 10.50 a.m.

Police found three hand grenades after they were checked in addition to the radio communication set they were holding.

These persons had admitted that they were from the LTTE organisation.

Later, Police have instructed them to leave the area.

In another incident, Police have observed three more LTTE cadres in the general area of MOLLIPOTHANA, about 12 km northeast of KANTALAI on 11th February 2002 around 8 p.m.

They had claimed that they were from the LTTE.

They were also asked to get back to uncleared areas.

A fibre glass boat with its fishing net had been taken away by a group of unidentified men while it was on the beach, in the general area of MUTUR east, about 13 km. south of TRINCOMALEE town on 12th February 2002 around 5 p.m.

The boat and items are approximately valued at Sri Lanka Rs. 62,000(approximately) US$ 689).

The owners ABDULHAMIDU KACHAHI and MOHOMADU of MAIN ROAD, TAGAL NAGAR, MUTUR had lodged a complaint at the MUTUR Police station.

MUTUR Police are making inquiries.

A combined road block manned by Army and Police in the general area of KALLAR, about 30 km. east of KANTALAI had taken in for questioning a person who had an LTTE identification tag on his neck on 12th February 2002 around 2 p.m.

The suspicious passenger who had arrived at the roadblock on a bus from KALLAR was taken in for questioning after a security check detected that he was in possession of an LTTE identification tag.

He confessed that he had escaped from the LTTE training camp at VERUGAL area where there are approximately 150 youth receiving training.

He was handed over to SERUNUWARA Police station for further investigations.

THURSDAY: Batticaloa: A group of about ten LTTE cadres, who arrived at the road block on 13th February 2002 around 3 p.m. in the general area of KADJUWATTA, about 45 km. northwest of BATTICALOA town had sought permission from the security personnel to proceed to cleared areas.

One of these persons was carrying a radio communication set.

These LTTE cadres had arrived there on five bicycles and a tractor.

However, security personnel sent them back to uncleared areas.

FRIDAY: Trincomalee: A combined routine patrol had observed two persons roaming in the general area of THAMBALGAMUWA, about 19 km. southwest of TRINCOMALEE town and stopped them for a search on 13th February 2002 around 4 p.m.

When questioned, these two had admitted that they are from the LTTE.

Later, troops have sent them back to uncleared areas.

Ten bicycles that were parked near a mosque in the general area of MUTUR, about 13 km. south of TRINCOMALEE town had been taken away by a group of LTTE cadres on 13th February 2002 around 7.50 p.m.

Civilians in the area had alleged that they saw a group of armed LTTE cadres on these bicycles while they were hurrying towards RAKKULI area.

Mutur Police are making inquiries.

Friday: Batticaloa: Several armed LTTE cadres had taken away a fishing boat with its engine (OBM), fishing nets and some other fishing equipment from the general area off KADJUWATTA sea, about 45 km. northwest of BATTICALOA town on 14th February 2002 around 9 a.m.

The owner, PAUL FERNANDO and his helpers had been released before they sped off with their fishing boat.

LTTE had initially demanded a ransom of Rs. 35,000 to release the equipment.

Fishermen had complained of the matter to the VALACHCHENAI POLICE STATION and the Army detachment in MANKERNI.

A group of LTTE cadres had attempted to forcibly take away a businessman in the general area of KALKUDAH, about 25 km, northwest of BATTICALOA town on 14th February 2002 around midnight.

However, civilians in the area who had assembled at the location to the screams of the businessman had prevented the businessman from being abducted by the LTTE.

The businessman had been first assaulted by the LTTE cadres before he was dragged out of his home.

The businessman identified as KALUTARA MUDALALI was asked to pay some money before these LTTE cadres fled the area.

These official accounts from Monday to Friday are just a sampling of the events unfolding since the cessation of hostilities. State intelligence agencies have learnt much more.

How intense the recruitment of new cadres have been going on in the east can be gauged by what happened in Serunuwara in the Trincomalee district. Kokilai Master, responsible for LTTE recruitment in the area, had sought the help of a Samurdhi Animator, to distribute printed forms in the Echalampattu Assistant Government Agent's Division. This is to ascertain the number of youth in each household since his task had been to recruit 3000 youth from the area. Intelligence sources say over 750 youth from Kathiraveli and Vakarai have already been recruited and taken to the Wanni for training. Kokilai Master has been frequenting the villages Kovilady, Thampalakamam, Pokuranai and other adjoining areas.

In Vellaveli, LTTE area leader, Sudhaharan, had forcibly conscripted a group of youth, both male and female. Four of them escaped and told the Police details of their ordeal.

In Vantharamoolai, Kanapathi Sithamparam, a 48 year old attendant attached to the Chenkaladi hospital, committed suicide last week after his 18 year old son S. Kavi Shankar was abducted. With his wife dead, Sithamparam has been the only source of livelihood for two sons and a daughter.

The Central Boys School in Batticaloa has been in session late last month when an LTTE cadre walked in and spoke to teachers on the need to recruit students. He had promised to return with his colleagues to give them a talk and commence recruitment.

In two villages in the Trincomalee district Kunativu and Sampoor newly recruited youth are being put through various paces of training. Residents in the area say mortar and small arms fire could be heard daily.

LTTE"s Political Wing leader for the east, Karikalan, intelligence sources say, chaired a meeting of businessmen in Trincomalee district at a location in Sampoor, near Mutur. He had appealed for cash donations. Groups of LTTE fund collectors are regularly visiting villages. In Vellur, a group not only collected money but also food and other items. Motor cycle and boat owners have been ordered to pay Rs 1000 per unit. Recipients of essential food items sent by the Government to the uncleared areas are being taxed at the rate of five rupees per kilo.

A most disturbing incident occurred on Friday night. Earlier that day, the attention of those at Eastern Naval Area Headquarters in Trincomalee have been focused on the commissioning in the rank of sub-lieutenant the second intake upper yardmen officers and 16th intake Kotelawala Defence Academy midshipmen, totalling 29 officers. This was together with a passing out parade for recruits of the 101st intake , both held at the Naval Dockyard in Trincomalee. Navy Commander Vice Admiral Sandagiri, was on hand.

On Friday night, Vice Admiral Sandagiri was hosting a cocktail party at the Officer's Mess in the Trincomalee Dockyard. Around 7.30 p.m., two Naval craft on patrol in the deep seas off Mullaitivu had observed four Sea Tiger boats. They had been moving from the deep seas in the direction of Chalai where the Sea Tigers are known to have a major base. As the two Naval craft got activated, eight Sea Tiger boats had put to sea from Chalai.

The Navy patrol craft observed the light signals from the eight boats heading in the direction of the four boats, which were some 20 kilometres from the shore. The eight boats had displayed "battle lights," Navy language for the signals which meant they were heading for a confrontation. Men on the two Naval craft felt they were outnumbered and did not engage.

Reports reached Navy Headquarters later that night that all the Sea Tiger boats had safely beached at Chalai. It has now become clear that the boats were on a logistics run. The two Navy vessels had noticed them only when the four boats were returning thus raising suspicion that logistics movements have been going on uninterrupted. The fact that the LTTE chose to carry out the logistics run on a day when the Navy in Trincomalee, and even their Commander, were pre-occupied with the passing out parade and the subsequent cocktail party, has raised several queries. Was security in the high seas relaxed last Friday in view of the Navy's pre-occupation with the passing out parade and the presence of VIPs in Trincomalee ? Despite the presence of the Navy Commander himself, why were no emergency measures taken by him to seek help to intercept the logistics movement, if not by sea, by air ?

When news of the logistics run reached Colombo, Army Commander Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, ordered the Duty Officer at Army Headquarters to convey his orders placing troops on alert. Lt. Gen. Balagalle had also ordered Major General Parami Kulatunga, to enhance security measures in the city and suburbs.

The Sunday Times has learnt that this is the fourth occasion the guerrillas have successfully carried out mid sea transfer of unidentified logistics supplies since the cessation of hostilities on Christmas eve, last year. Friday's incident was reported to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was on an official visit to Singapore. It is significant that the greater focus of LTTE activity has been in the Eastern Province. The strategic importance of the east to a concept of Eelam is all important. Without the East, Eelam is not viable.

Indeed the UNP Government, in realisation of the importance of the Eastern Province, had cleared this area and secured it so much that in 1994 it was possible to hold elections there. This was abandoned by the People's Alliance Government in preference to a Jaffna centric strategy. 

The end result is that whatever gains were made in Jaffna were subsequently lost together with the Wanni and the security forces domination of the Eastern Province.

It is in this context that the Government should realise the vital need to secure the security advantage in the Eastern Province.

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