in quandary as Tigers step up violence
The bus damaged by Thursday's claymore mine explosion at Cheddikulam
along Mannar - Medawachchiya Road. Photo:Athula Bandara
appeared to be a collective mood change in President Mahinda Rajapakse's
Government this week.
spokesman and Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told a media
briefing the President had ordered armed forces to act only in self
defence and not to provoke the Tiger guerrillas.
announcement came after Wednesday's cabinet meeting. President Rajapakse
had briefed ministers on the prevailing security situation in the
country and the peace process. This is in the backdrop of intelligence
reports of a heavy military build up by Tiger guerrillas. Such reports
also spoke of clear signs they were stepping up offensives against
the armed forces and the police.
the latest order to the armed forces to act with restraint overrides
all previous assertions. That is not only by political leaders but
also by military top brass about tit-for-tat responses against any
guerrilla threats and attacks. In some instances, there was also
muscle flexing by troops in operational areas in the North and East.
This is in the form of cordon-and-search operations and other activity
there. In the city of Colombo it took the form of "Operation
the latter was claimed to be a routine exercise modelled on the
lines of what our British rulers did during the colonial era, large
number of Tamil civilians including women, to say the least, were
both badly humiliated and inconvenienced. The worst moments came
when they were paraded before cameramen in the compounds of city
police stations. Some men and women were in their night clothes.
Some Tamil groups made representations to the Indian High Commission
in Colombo only to be reminded that it was an internal matter.
boomeranging effect of this was on President Rajapakse. The New
Year's Eve operations were front page news in most media in the
southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Tamil newspapers published
photographs and declared this was the treatment meted out to Tamils
by the Rajapakse administration. If that was bad, the worst was
to come. Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa summoned Editors
of Colombo-based Tamil media to strongly admonish them over the
publication of pictures and reports.
were no such warnings to other media that also published similar
reportage including photographs. These responses are clearly reminiscent
of the 1980s when such actions created more "terrorists"
than they destroyed. Besides this, it also gives credence to claims
of discrimination of the Tamil media. This is at a time when President
Rajapakse needs a good rapport with them to get his message across
to the Tamil people about the peace process among other matters.
the lack a cohesive national strategy, this underscores the futility
of an approach with aggressiveness one day and restraint on the
next day. Different voices from those in authority are heard to
say different things and embark on different exercises. This is
by no means to suggest that search operations should be done away
with. A one time British procedure, practised in the pre-independence
era, has been re-activated 59 years later. However, since independence,
cordon-and-search operations have been carried out many a time in
Colombo and suburbs.
was particularly after the advent of separatist violence. But this
was on the basis of substantial intelligence and focused on specific
The current searches, it is claimed, are not aimed at one community.
The latest one encompassed the areas of authority of eight Colombo
is what has caused worries for influential sections of the Government.
They ask whether such "blanket" searches would not bring
the Rajapakse administration, barely two months in power, into total
disrepute. More so when it is claimed that it is aimed at all communities
and is being made out that they want to "identify" criminals
from all those who lived in a major part of the city.
of those who fail this "identification" test once practised
by our British rulers. Even in the UK, the Police have given up
this practice. After last year's London bombings, only suspected
"target" areas based on intelligence information were
searched for Al Qaeda suspects. But a Police force in Sri Lanka,
in this modern era of technology, has to round up all the civilians
from large sections of town areas to ascertain who is a "criminal"
and who is not.
sections of the Government are worried. Some ask whether this was
a plot to make the Government unpopular. One irate Cabinet minister
who did not wish to be named declared "I did not know what
to tell people who complained that they were virtually dragged from
their bed to police stations. Our blunders are only exacerbating
problems but no one seems to care. If police were handled by the
Interior Ministry before, there is little or no attention over these
matters at the Defence Ministry now. All are having a field day."
There was a warning yesterday to Police Stations linked to the "Strangers
Night" operation that Tiger Guerrillas may attempt a bomb explosion
in one of their premises.
enough, the Government's concerns over the need for restraint and
thus avert a war was shared last Friday by the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission (SLMM). In a statement that dealt hard blows to both the
Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the
SLMM warned "if the Parties don't react immediately they risk
going back to war." In an unprecedented move since their deployment
here, the SLMM asked "whether there is still a ceasefire in
statement said LTTE involvement in recent incidents cannot be ruled
out and declared "the LTTE's indifference to these attacks
worrying." It also noted that "…..there have been
reports of civilian harassment by the Security Forces in relation
to increased security measures."
intelligence agencies believe there is mounting evidence that the
LTTE is making preparations to launch attacks on the armed forces
and the police in the coming week. This is ahead of the visit to
Colombo of Norway's Minister of International Development and Special
Envoy for the peace process, Erik Solheim on January 23. They believe
the move is intended to mount pressure on the Government to heed
the demand for the Norwegian capital of Oslo to be the venue for
a future meeting of Government and LTTE delegations.
Rajapakse has been categorical that his Government would not agree
to such a venue. The LTTE feels that its insistence on the Oslo
venue and any inevitable acceptance would plunge the Government
into a crisis. This is because the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)
is staunchly opposed to a meeting in Oslo. President Rajapakse told
Donor Co-chairs of the peace process that his Government was not
averse to a neutral venue - not Oslo as demanded by the LTTE or
an Asian capital as insisted on by the ruling party.
the LTTE "decreed" that all Government institutions and
banks in the Jaffna peninsula should now re-open, several other
preparations have continued. The "order" to re-open came
after members of the Catholic clergy appealed to LTTE Political
Wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvan. There were also emissaries acting
on behalf of the Government extending assurances that troops have
been ordered to exercise greater restraint and would not engage
in any "offensive" activity.
exodus of "Maveerar" (or Great Heroes) families, those
who contributed one or more member of a family for the LTTE cause,
from the Jaffna peninsula to guerrilla dominated areas in the Wanni
has increased. Official records reveal that more than 1,245 families
have left the peninsula. A large group of students from the University
of Jaffna were summoned to Kilinochchi. Barring a handful, who is
described as intelligence types, others are still in the Wanni.
According to intelligence sources they are being given briefings
on assisting or joining guerrilla cadres who will go into action.
On Friday 80 families of fishermen crossed into the Wanni following
a reported Navy ban on fishing in some areas off the seas off the
the LTTE ordered traffic along A-9 highway to proceed straight and
not to turn into any adjoining roads. Lorries carrying supplies
from Colombo to Jaffna have been told to return. The LTTE has also
called a halt to bus services along A-9. Tamil National Alliances
MPs in the Jaffna district were summoned for a meeting in Pallai
and inner Kilinochchi has remained out of bounds to visitors. There
were reports of plans to attack a major Naval target.
Thursday a bus carrying Navy sailors returning from leave to Mannar
was hit by a claymore mine. Nine sailors were killed and seven more
injured in the incident that occurred at Cheddikulam, 24 kilometres
southwest of Vavuniya. This was near the 18th milepost on the Medawachchiya-Mannar
Road. A resultant search operation led to troops opening fire, killing
a Sinhala homeguard. The Army said guerrillas hid behind shrub jungle
and triggered off this claymore mine explosion, the seventh such
attack in the recent weeks.
mines have become the latest weapon in the LTTE arsenal to be used
extensively in recent attacks. The claymore is an anti personnel
weapon often used by troops in many countries. It is designed to
fire steel balls (shrapnel) out to about 100 metres or more across
a 60 degree arc in front of the device that sits on two tri -pods.
It is designed for use in ambushes and the LTTE has built improvised
claymore mines of various types. The claymore draws its name from
a large Scottish sword.
Since November 17 - the day of the presidential elections - a total
of 135 troops and civilians have died in violent incidents. Here
is a breakdown: Army (39), Navy 38, Police-STF 3, Home Guards 2,
Tamil civilians 25, Muslims 16, Sinhalese 6, PLOT cadres 2, EPDP
2, EPRLF 1 and politicians (Joseph Pararajasingham, MP) 1.
guerrillas have continued their attacks on armed forces this week.
Yesterday they attacked a Navy three man foot patrol near kayts
killing two sailors. On Friday, a bus carrying troops from Anuradhapura
to Trincomalee escaped miraculously when a claymore mine directed
at them did not ignite. Later, troops recovered another claymore
mine in the area. The incident occurred at Tampalakamam. The same
day an EPRLF member was shot dead in Kallady in the Batticaloa district.
the wake of fears that there would be more claymore mine attacks,
armed forces have already formulated countermeasures. Some of them
have become tough on the soldiers. An example - movement of troops
from Muhamalai to Jaffna, a distance of 35 kilometres, have been
by foot for soldiers. They walk on either side of the road clearing
the route ahead followed by a convoy of vehicles.
sources believe a stepped-up offensive by Tiger guerrillas, now
that the Thai Pongal festival is over, was likely to begin either
Wednesday or Thursday. This is on the basis of preparations and
information received from ground sources. They say Government assurances
now of a restrained approach have so far had no bearing. Nor has
the appeals of the international community or the SLMM so far.
If this happens, it will no doubt have a bearing on the Solheim
visit and the next phase of the peace process. It will also put
paid to a visit to Wanni by LTTE chief negotiator and ideologue,
Anton Balasingham. He wants to be on hand if and when Mr. Solheim
meets LTTE leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. That is one priority
for Mr. Solheim, now a Cabinet Minister and wants to learn from
the LTTE leader himself what is in store for the future.
this backdrop the coming week is crucial. And there is no gainsaying
the Government has to get its act together both in the political
and security spheres instead of allowing more contradictions to
occur and prevent drifting in different directions.
says he acted with Defence Sec's approval
Retired Deputy Inspector General H.M.G.B. Kotakadeniya, now advisor
to the Ministry of Defence, declared yesterday he had obtained prior
clearance before inducting Police Special Task Force (STF) commandos
spoke to Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse and received his
approval," he told The Sunday Times.
was responding to last week's The Sunday Times (Situation Report)
which revealed that a retired Police officer, now an advisor to
the Ministry of Defence, had been responsible for the deployment
of 24 STF commandos led by a Chief Inspector in Trincomalee. It
was also revealed that senior military officials in the district
were unaware of this deployment. Since then, the Police commandos
have been withdrawn on the orders of President Mahinda Rajapakse.
accept I was responsible for this deployment. This was done much
before Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse accompanied President
Mahinda Rajapakse on his state visit to India," Mr. Kotakadeniya
said. He pointed out: "I have continued to receive complaints
from Sinhala residents in the district. More than 40 of them have
been killed. I felt there was a need to strengthen the Police in
Trincomalee to maintain law and order in view the strategic importance
of this city."
STF Commandant (DIG Nimal Lewke) was at first reluctant to deploy
on the grounds there were heavy demands on his men. I had to impress
on him the urgency over this crucial matter," he added. "How
could I wait when there have been so much of public representations
to me?" he asked.
Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse declined to respond to Mr. Kotakadeniya's
claims. "I do not want to get involved in a public debate on
this issue since corrective action has already been taken,"
he told The Sunday Times.
other highly placed sources insisted Mr. Kotakadeniya had intimated
to Defence Secretary Rajapakse of the STF deployment in Trincomalee
only after it had been carried out. "Since no prior permission
for such an engagement was obtained, Mr. Kotakadeniya and other
advisors to the Ministry of Defence have all been told not to initiate
action on operational matters without the express approval of the
Defence Secretary," these sources said.
senior Defence Ministry official noted it was "highly disturbing"
such things were happening at a time when national security interests
Forces commanders and the Police Chief have been apprised of this
situation and told not to heed any orders for deployment or other
operational matters, these sources added. Such measures, they have
been told, would need the specific approval of the Defence Secretary.
The conduct of STF personnel deployed in Trincomalee has become
the subject of a top-level inquiry after allegations that they opened
fire at a group of students from Koneswara Hindu College. The probe
is headed by DIG (Western Province - North) Asoka Wijetilleke and
came on the orders of President Rajapakse.
Tiger guerrilla attack on the Navy Fast Attack Craft (FAC) on January
6 is said to be a direct retaliation for the killing of five students.
Navy Headquarters have declared 12 soldiers (including two officers)
missing in action over this incident. However, they are believed
dead. Two sailors were rescued and another is believed to be in
The debriefing of the two rescued sailors have bared some disturbing
details. They are said to have been on the open bridge of the FAC
when they saw the guerrilla "suicide" boat approaching
from the rear and dived into the sea.
Israeli built Shaldag class FAC, which is fully equipped with sophisticated
systems, is said to be worth over ten million US dollars (or over
Rs 100 million). Initial reports indicate that the crew had not
been in readiness for an eventuality though there was an on board
radar with a range of eight kilometres and a gun with a range of
Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda, who rushed
to Trincomalee after the incident ordered senior officials there
to assign hand-picked officers to man FACs.
has named a three-member team to conduct a preliminary inquiry,
a forerunner to a Court of Inquiry. The team is led by Commodore
Ruwan Dias, Commandant of the Sri Lanka Naval Academy in Trincomalee,
and comprises Captain S.A. Samarasinghe (Engineering Division) and
Commander T. Deshapriya Adipola (Electrical Division).
Two Presidential Commissions to probe Sandagiri deals and
President Mahinda Rajapakse wants to appoint two Presidential Commissions
of Inquiry made up of serving Supreme Court judges to probe bribery
and corrupt practices in military procurements.
Weeratunga, Secretary to the President, is to write to Bandula K.
Atapattu, Registrar of the Supreme Court conveying the request to
appoint these Commissions. Chief Justice Sarath N. de Silva is to
nominate its members. Mr. Weeratunga is now learnt to be formulating
the terms of reference for the probe.
appointing these two Commissions of Inquiry, President Rajapakse,
for the first time, is invoking provisions in the Constitution.
This is Section 129 which states as follows:
If at any time it appears to the President of the Republic that
a question of law or fact has arisen or is likely to arise which
is of such nature and of such public importance that it is expedient
to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court upon it, he may refer
that question to that Court for consideration and the Court, may
after such hearing as it thinks fit, within the period specified
in such reference or within such time as may be extended by the
President, report to the President its opinion thereon.
Constitution states that "every proceeding under paragraph
(1) of this article shall be held in private unless the Court for
special reasons otherwise directs.
Commission will probe allegations of bribery and corruption against
the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and former Commander of the Navy,
Admiral Daya Sandagiri. As CDS, he is responsible for all military
and police matters relating to national security. He heads the Joint
Operations Headquarters comprising the Army, Navy, Air Force and
Police. Whilst the Commission conducts its probe, the Government
expects Admiral Sandagiri to continue in office. Admiral Sandagiri
has also chosen not to resign in keeping with accepted traditions
and return if his name is cleared. Instead he wants to remain in
is not immediately clear whether all procurement deals concluded
on behalf of the Navy by Admiral Sandagiri will come under probe.
Most of them have been subject to controversy with allegations of
malpractices. But the appointment of a Presidential Comm-issions
of Inquiry is the direct result of revelations made in The Sunday
Times (Situation Report) of January 1 2006. It bared how the Government
cancelled a billion rupee deal where Admiral Sandagiri, as former
Commander of the Navy, ordered 20-year-old guns for the Navy's Fast
Attack Craft fleet on the grounds they were "brand new."
A front page news report also revealed how he allegedly tampered
year by year with his own assets declarations kept in sealed envelopes
at Navy Headquarters.
moves are afoot by a group backed by a wheeler dealer businessman
to make out that the Admiral Sanadgiri's deals were perfectly in
order. He is known to have tried to exert undue influence to secure
the deal through the present Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral
Wasantha Karannagoda but the latter declined to give him an appointment.
Questions have been raised by his lobby why The Sunday Times had
earlier "praised" Admiral Sandagiri and was now criticising
them. The simple answer - doing the newspaper's duty by reporting
exactly what has been going on at various times.
fact that President Rajapakse has acknowledged the need for a probe
on Admiral Sandagiri's deals by the nation’s highest court
further underscores the reality of the situation, something which
interested lobbies are attempting to hide under the carpet. A Government
source said provision is being made in the Commission's terms of
reference to identify those who attempted to bring undue pressure
to secure the deal and make millions in commissions.
second Presidential Commission of Inquiry is to probe allegations
of bribery and corruption in respect of military procurements in
the past five years. A limitation of this probe to five years would
exclude many major controversial military purchases. Four of the
past five years have been under a ceasefire. Neither that period
nor the year preceding that had seen any major procurement being
made. It would no doubt reveal a highly disturbing pattern if the
period under probe is extended to cover at least ten years including
the controversial Eelam War III phase of the separatist war - a
period which saw colossal material and human losses.
of the procurements made for this phase of the war were controversial
and under a censorship imposed during former President Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's administration, Reportage of them was
sometimes prohibited. One such case related to Navy's purchase in
2000 of two Fast Missile Vessels from Israel for US 26 million (then
Rs 2,236 million).
of them was INS Komemiut (manufactured in 1980) and INS Moledet
(manufactured in 1979). Both vessels at the time of purchase were
over 20 years old. They were renamed INS Nandimitra and INS Suranimala
respectively. One was operational for barely two years. The other
is now lying in a Navy junkyard while efforts are being made to
refit an engine. When these revelations were made in The Sunday
Times a written warning was issued by the Competent Authority.