airstrip: Who's telling the truth?
Armed sentries behind concertina wire and a sand bag barricade
guard a statue of Lord Buddha in Trincomalee
Ministry of Defence in Colombo has taken serious note of intelligence
reports of the possibility of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
(LTTE) constructing a second airstrip in the Trincomalee district
- a matter that was revealed in The Sunday Times (Situation Report)
have grown after more reports trickled in about construction activity
that is being carried out in secrecy at Uppural near Senamveli,
a location 30 kilometres south of Foul Point in Trincomalee. In
last week's report I had erroneously referred to the area as Thakarawadi,
a village south of Sampur. In effect, the location is east of Thoppur.
political leader for Trincomalee, S. Elilan, however, described
reports of the airstrip (that appeared only in The Sunday Times)
as a canard. He brought to the notice of the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM) last Monday describing "reports published in
a section of the media quoting a report from the state intelligence
agency" as a figment of imagination, the Tamilnet website reported
on Monday. See box story on this page for the full report.
Elilan has charged that the "Army has concocted the airstrip
story to justify the economic embargo on the residents of the LTTE-controlled
Mutur east villages. Evidently he is unaware that the Army had no
knowledge of such reports. If they did, it would have come to the
knowledge of their higher command in Colombo and consequently to
the Ministry of Defence. As I said last week, it was a State intelligence
arm that reported on the matter and that organisation is not an
off shoot of the Army.
this week, there was more from the agency which declared earlier
that it was being "speculated that the LTTE is planning to
establish an airbase." According to them around 25 acres of
land have been declared out of bounds to the public. Large stocks
of cement were being moved to the area where clearing activity was
taking place. The Sunday Times (Situation Report) also said evidence
strongly suggest the construction of an airstrip. Here are the new
developments that have added to the concerns of the Ministry of
A local dealer in metal with a large quarry site has received
orders in writing for the supply of over 10,000 truck loads of
metal. Drivers bringing in the metal are told to disembark from
their trucks when they near secluded zone. At that point a guerrilla
cadre takes charge of the truck and drives it into the secluded
area to unload the metal. Thereafter, he returns to the spot where
the driver dismounted and hands over the vehicle to the driver
to bring in the next load. The process has been going on for many
An international Non Governmental Organisation which provides
"aid and understanding" to victims in developing countries
is said to be helping in the work. Tiger guerrillas have been
receiving extensive help from other organisations too in the home
country where the NGO is headquartered. This NGO, according to
intelligence sources, is said to receive assistance from UN agencies,
organisations coming under the European Union, foreign trade unions
and some religious organisations.
Besides the loads of metal, civilians in the area have confirmed
that large quantities of quarry dust are also being unloaded.
At least 50 truck loads had been dumped in one location. Inability
to obtain sand without brine to be mixed with cement, reports
say, has led to the use of quarry dust. It is said to be much
stronger when used after mixing with cement.
Large stocks of steel and other construction material have been
going into the area from shops in Government controlled Trincomalee
town. Before construction activity in this new area was located,
cement had been used extensively in the construction of bunkers
along the Sampur coast - a stretch that overlooks the Trincomalee
Harbour. However, movement of supplies had increased with construction
activity in the secluded location.
Sri Lanka Air Force which conducted reconnaissance using the Israeli
built Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) is unable to conclude positively
that an airstrip is taking shape. However, it has confirmed clearing
activity was going on. One possibility, the Air Force suspected,
could be the construction of a highway. But the location is one
that does not link any contiguous land area that could be connected
through such a highway as the map on this page makes clear. It is
located between the Ullacklie lagoon inland and the ocean on the
outer side. Moreover, the construction of a highway does not necessitate
the seclusion of a 25 acre area and declaring it out of bounds to
all non LTTE personnel a fact that the State intelligence agency
in question has confirmed beyond any doubt.
Air Force officers also talk of lessons learnt after the LTTE cleared
a jungle stretch and constructed a 1.2 kilometre long airstrip in
Kilinochchi. Much after the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002,
a UAV reconnaissance mission by the Air Force (on November 25 2003)
acquired video footage of a considerable clearing in the jungle
east of Iranamadu. Later, on February 16 2004 further UAV missions
confirmed reconstruction work commence on a runway.
this period between November 2003 and February 2004, questions were
raised why the Air Force was unable to alert the Ministry of Defence
on the dangers posed. However, there was one difficulty for them.
Some of the construction work has been going on under cover of camouflage
nets making detection from the air virtually impossible. That is
why the senior Air Force officials were shocked at UAV footage they
took on a mission on September 30, 2004 - it gave a clear picture
of a paved airstrip with threshold and centreline markings.
the backdrop of these developments, an intelligence arm of the armed
forces has reported to the Ministry of Defence of increasing Tiger
guerrilla logistics movements from the North to the East. They have
confirmed that warlike material was being moved regularly from locations
along the Mullaitivu coast to areas near guerrilla-dominated Foul
Point. According to their reports, coastal movements have taken
place hugging the sea coast. This has made detection by the Navy
there was no evidence to link such movements with the construction
of a suspected airstrip, it was still confirmation that the guerrillas
were resorting to a heavier military build up in Trincomalee, the
perceived capital for the so-called separate state of Tamil Eelam.
Heightening concerns over this report is another by the same service
agency that State officers serving in Government offices in controlled
areas were being summoned to guerrilla dominated areas for meetings
with leaders. The officials had been briefed on a number of matters
including the need to help civilians who will be engaged in protest
Elilan's remarks that he had on Monday "brought to the notice
of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission" reports that LTTE is constructing
an airstrip in Trincomalee and calling them to investigate the matter
is indeed an interesting one. The LTTE has strongly resisted and
continues to resist moves by the SLMM to inspect the airstrip near
the Iranamadu irrigation tank in Kilinochchi. Head of SLMM Hagrup
Haukland has publicly admitted that permission was not forthcoming.
is also known that one attempt at inspection was impeded when the
SLMM found trees were felled across the road they had to take. In
another instance, they had been warned of landmines. Hence, the
question is whether Mr Elilan had acted on his own in seeking SLMM
intervention to investigate or on the instructions of his leaders
in Kilinochchi? Either way, this is a good opportunity for the Ministry
of Defence to raise issue with the SLMM.
head of SLMM Hagrup Haukland told The Sunday Times yesterday he
was unaware of such a request either by Mr. Elilan or the LTTE.
His remarks came after he checked with the SLMM office in Trincomalee.
The deputy head of the SLMM office in Trincomalee Ove Jansson told
The Sunday Times he was also still unaware of any such request by
head of the LTTE Political Wing S.P. Thamilselvan told Norway's
Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar, during a meeting in Kilinochchi
last Tuesday the guerrillas may be forced to plan their own means
of providing travel arrangements using their "own land, sea
or air capability." It is not only a threat but also a proud
boast. Yet, the use of air capability from Kilinochchi would mean
the existence of another air field somewhere to land an aircraft.
Contrary to some media reports, the LTTE does not possess any helicopters
now. It is known to have only two fixed wing aircraft of which one
has been identified as a Czech built Zlin Z-143.
Thamilselvan's remarks to Mr. Brattskar, reported in the Tamilnet
website came after the Ministry of Defence put on hold the free
availability of Air Force helicopters for guerrilla cadres to travel
from North to East and vice versa. Defence Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.)
Asoka Jayawardena has insisted he would review the LTTE requests
for air travel case by case particularly in the wake of the troubled
situation in the East. Already, LTTE's Trincomalee "Military
Commander Col." Anthonydas Soosaipillai alias Sornam and a
group who travelled by Air Force helicopter to Kilinochchi are unable
on the matter, the Tamilnet said: "Frequent consultation between
our military commanders from Batticaloa, Ampara and Trincomalee
with the LTTE leadership in Trincomalee is extremely critical to
our movement's operational readiness to maintain peace. Norwegian
facilitators have been providing an acceptable mechanism for us
until recently. Colombo's refusal to continue this arrangement has
forced us to plan our own means of providing travel arrangements
using our own land, sea or air capability. We have clearly indicated
to the Norwegian delegation that this will lead to a potentially
Thamilselvan also had some comments to make on concerns expressed
by Indian leaders over LTTE's construction of an airstrip and acquisition
of air capability. Expression of concern first came from Indian
External Affairs Minister Kanwar Natwar Singh. Thereafter, Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also expressed concern during talks
in New Delhi early this month with President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Sunday Times learnt Mr. Natwar Singh discussed the matter further
with Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar during talks in Colombo
on Friday. India is likely to make available radar to cope with
air threats. It is not clear whether they would come as gifts or
the Government would be called upon to make payment. However, contrary
to Indian media reports of Sri Lanka Air Force officers proceeding
to India for training on air defence, no such arrangements have
been agreed upon, according to official sources in Colombo.
Tamilnet report quoting Mr. Thamilselvan on this matter states:
"Responding to a question on recently reported concern by the
Government of India on LTTE's air wing and India's reported offer
of support to the Government of Sri Lanka, Thamilselvan said: Although
we are not certain on the veracity of these reports, we can categorically
say that all military infrastructures we have built are solely for
the purpose of providing safety and security to our people.
military capabilities were not built to threaten our neighbouring
countries or any other people. However, if India offers military
help to Sri Lanka as a response to our air capability, we will regard
that as an act meant to legitimize the killing of thousands of our
people by aerial bombardment by the Sri Lanka Air Force. We don't
seriously believe India will take that stand."
Mr. Thamilselvan says "all military infrastructures we have
built are solely for the purpose of providing safety and security
to the people." He carefully avoids any reference to the fact
that such military infrastructure development had taken place during
the period of the over three year long ceasefire. But, Mr. Elilan
denies the existence of the airstrip and claims he told the SLMM
on Monday to investigate - a fact which its head, Hagrup Haukland
says has not been done yet. Of course, Mr. Elilan is right when
he says there was nothing going on at Takarawadi, a location which
I referred to erroneously.
how come a complaint he claims to have made on Monday did not reach
the SLMM? Or, is this simply a propaganda ploy?
the LTTE had demonstrated that it has regained fuller political
and military control in the East, an effort to extend this to the
Trincomalee district has got under way. A senior intelligence official
says they have succeeded in bringing life to a standstill in Trincomalee
through Hartals. With the influx of more cadres by sea from Wanni
a greater consolidation is now under way; the source points out
and warns that a delay in remedial measures would only complicate
danger to Trincomalee, particularly the strategic harbour, was highlighted
by a military team from the United States Pacific Command (PACOM).
A study conducted by them during the tenure of the former United
National Front (UNF) Government revealed the serious threats posed.
Their report said:
The most important base for the Sri Lanka Navy is without question
the Trincomalee Harbour.
the LTTE control the southern portion of the Harbour. From this
area, the LTTE have effectively monitored all ship movement in and
out of the Harbour, launch suicide and artillery attacks against
the Naval Base and could potentially destroy any vessel coming in
and out of the harbour. The SL Army is responsible for this area
but they have been unable to completely secure it.
The SL Defence force must secure this land area. The vulnerable
position that currently exists could essential level the majority
of the SLN fleet. The result would be that the only re-supply capability
for the Jaffna Peninsula would have to come from Colombo, more than
four times the distance to Jaffna.
Currently there are designated areas for the LTTE and areas for
the SL Defence forces. If the southern tip of Trincomalee Harbour
has not been designated for the LTTE, it more than likely isn't,
then the SL government should be massing police and military personnel
in this area in case the hostilities resume. (sic)
Without control of this area the defence of Trincomalee Harbour
will always be a losing battle. Without Trincomalee Harbour the
ability to prosecute the war would be detrimentally affected."
warning has remained with little or no action taken. It in this
backdrop that the ongoing controversy over LTTE backed demands for
the removal of a newly placed statue of Lord Buddha in Trincomalee
town has occurred. Last week, on the instructions of President Kumaratunga,
the statement of a senior military officer in the area was obtained.
This was after intelligence reports that he addressed a public gathering
and offered support. Now, a group has warned of further protests
if any action is taken to remove the officer concerned from the
the absence of the Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Sri
Lanka Navy, Vice Admiral Daya Sandgiri, the task of keeping close
tabs on the security situation in Trincomalee has fallen on Defence
Secretary. Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jayawardene. He is very familiar with
the area having served from there as the Governor of the North-East
Province. Yesterday, he chaired a top level meeting at the MoD over
Admiral Sandagiri, who returned to Sri Lanka after a week in Singapore
to attend a defence exhibition, was on a week-long tour of India
last week. He was due in Colombo yesterday. He is due to leave for
UK later this month and to USA in August.
Mr. Thamilselvan's oft repeated statements are correct, the LTTE
is continuing to build military infrastructures for "providing
safety and security to our people." Mr. Elilan says reports
of an airstrip in Trincomalee district are a canard and asserts
that he had asked the SLMM to investigate. But Head of SLMM Mr.
Haukland has said no such request has been received.
will not be a bad idea for the Ministry of Defence to raise issue
with both the Norwegian peace facilitators and the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission. They will then be able to find out who is telling the truth.
report: Canards and concoctions
The LTTE Political Wing leader for Trincomalee S. Elilan
has claimed that reports on the construction of an airstrip in Trincomalee
district are a canard.
has told the Tamilnet website that he asked the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM) on Monday to investigate this matter.
yesterday (Saturday) Head of the SLMM, Hagrup Haukland told The
Sunday Times no such request has been received from Mr. Elilan or
the LTTE. He said he had checked this with the SLMM office in Trincomalee
is what Tamilnet reported last Monday (June 6): "(Tamilnet,
June 06, 2005 19.20 GMT) - S. Elilan, Trincomalee district political
head of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Monday brought
to the notice of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) that reports
published in a section of the media quoting a report from the state
intelligence agency that the LTTE is engaged in constructing an
airstrip in Sampoor, Mutur east, is a figment of imagination, sources
Elilan said that the Army had concocted the airstrip story to justify
the economic embargo imposed on the residents of the LTTE controlled
Mutur east villages.
report said the airstrip is under construction in Thakaravadi in
Sampoor. There was no such place called Thakaravadi in Sampoor,
Mr. Elilan said.
Elilan said that he urged the SLMM should investigate the matter
and make public its findings, according to sources. "Currently
SLA has banned Mutur east residents from transporting cement, building
materials and fuel from the Army controlled areas. Villagers recently
held several demonstrations demanding the removal of the economic