attacks bear ceasefire charade
foils Tiger attack, saves lives of 710 security forces
SLMM witnesses battle, reprimands LTTE
For the past many weeks the Northern Naval Area Headquarters in Kankesanthurai
(Jaffna) was baffled by suspicious boat movements in the seas off
the shores of Mullaitivu.
A stretch of some 15 kilometres from this strategic
North-Eastern coastal town, up to the village of Chalai further
north, has remained the main staging area for the sea going arm
of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sea Tigers.
Their attack craft conducted daily manoeuvres. It involved two to
three craft but the number gradually increased. Though still puzzled,
the Navy could no longer ignore.
They placed Dvora fast attack craft (FAC) to monitor
the suspicious activity. Two of them, P-411 and P 480, were located
directly off the shores of Mullaitivu. Two more, P-421 and P-497,
were located directly off the shores of Chalai, known to be where
the Sea Tiger headquarters is located. The Dvoras reported periodically
to Northern Naval Area Headquarters that a few boats appear to be
engaged in combat exercises. It seemed that the actions were deliberate
and intended to draw the attention of the Navy. By noon Thursday
the activity centered around three guerrilla attack craft.
But an incident shortly past noon elsewhere on
Thursday was to change the course of events. Reports came that Tiger
guerrillas had attacked an Inshore Patrol Craft (IPC). It had occurred
at the Mutur jetty that is separated by seas from the Eastern Naval
Area headquarters in the Dockyard in Trincomalee. Was this a diversion
for another major operation Tiger guerrillas had planned?
Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda
Lt. Cmdr. Prasanna Edirisinghe
Sub Lt. R.M.I. Rathnathilaka
That operation, the Navy had been alerted by credible
intelligence channels, was to carry out a mid-sea transfer of defence
supplies. A ship was to unload them into fishing trawlers somewhere
in the deep seas. That was to be anytime on Thursday, Friday or
Saturday. Thereafter they were to be smuggled in through the north
east coast. Navy Commander Vice Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda had
ordered counter measures. As a supplementary effort, the regional
Navy headquarters in the north and east deployed more vessels by
For Northern Naval Area headquarters in KKS, deployment
of additional FACs had an added importance. An intelligence warning
the previous day had alerted them to a possible attack on a naval
convoy in the north-eastern high seas. For this purpose, it was
felt, that guerrilla vessels could move out from Chalai area. Hence,
they deployed two more Dvora fast attack craft, P-421 and P-497
to join the two (P-418 and P 420) FACs positioned in the seas off
Chalai earlier. The FAC P-421 had on board Lars Bleymann, an SLMM
member stationed in Jaffna, and the vessel flew their flag. Together
with the two FACs off Mullativu, the six naval craft were ordered
to remain in a high state of alert.
It was around 3.30 p.m. on Thursday when Commanding
Officer of FAC P-418 Lieutenant Commander Prasanna Edirisinghe reported
to Northern Naval Area headquarters the number of guerrilla attack
craft in the seas off Chalai were increasing. It was now becoming
clear the Sea Tigers were ready to embark on a major offensive operation.
In the meanwhile, just before dawn on Thursday,
the passenger ferry Pearl Cruise II had left the Dockyard in Trincomalee
with 710 unarmed Army, Navy, Air Force and Police personnel. They
were returning to their postings after leave. The privately-owned
vessel is on lease to the Navy and is the main mode of troop transport
to the Jaffna peninsula. Only a limited number of personnel are
ferried by air from Ratmalana to Palaly and vice versa. A Fast Gun
Boat and two Dvora fast attack craft were providing close escort.
On board the passenger ferry was Ilkka Happlina, a member of the
SLMM. He is based in Trincomalee.
At least 12 guerrilla attack craft mounted with
an assortment of weapons in each of them - 23 mm and 20 mm guns,
.50 calibre guns or light machine guns were moving at high speed,
some 30 to 35 knots, towards the Pearl Cruiser II and the escort
vessels. Four smaller vessels laden with explosives and guided by
suicide cadres were also at the scene. The time was 4.35 p.m. The
four Dvoras off the shores of Chalai moved in to intercept and came
under intense fire.
They promptly alerted the three escorting naval
vessels and Pearl Cruisier II. They were some 30 nautical miles
off Point Pedro. The FACs began to respond with gunfire thereafter.
The loud bursts were heard along the shores of Point Pedro southwards
up to Vettilaikerny and beyond.
Passenger ferry Poseidon renamed Pearl
In Colombo, the news sent shockwaves reeling down
the defence and security establishment. A second major guerrilla
attack was now under way. The first was just over two weeks ago
when an LTTE suicide bomber infiltrated Army Headquarters and attempted
to kill Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Navy Chief Vice
Admiral Karannagoda was at his office attending to routine chores.
He rushed to the Operations Room to personally take charge. Defence
Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, who was concerned about the safety
of the troops, rushed in. He was at a conference at the Foreign
Ministry. He was followed later by Presidential Secretary, Lalith
Weeratunga. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera joined in thereafter.
Then began a tense, near 90-minute sea battle
where the valour and bravery of the Navy men became a shining highlight.
Vice Admiral Karannagoda was on the radio giving detailed directions.
He was talking to Rear Admiral Upali Ranaweera, Commander Northern
Naval Area (COMNORTH) and Commodore Jayantha Perera, Deputy Eastern
Naval Area Commander. Rear Admiral S.R. Samaratunga (COMEAST) was
away on leave.
The passenger ferry, the gun boat and two Dvora
FACs were ordered to move away further into the deep seas. Two Dvoras
deployed near the Delft Island (with an SLMM monitor on board one
of them) were also ordered to protect the passenger ferry. Pearl
Cruise II crossed the IMBL (International Maritime Boundary Line)
between India and Sri Lanka. They were in Indian territorial waters.
From Colombo, contact was made with the Indian Navy to afford protection
should they come under fire. The Sunday Times learnt Indian authorities
responded with the offer of not only naval support in such an eventuality
but also air action if it became necessary.
Bitter battles were now raging between Sea Tigers
and Navy. According to a Navy source who spoke on grounds of anonymity,
the Dvora P-418 skippered by Lt. Cmdr. Prasanna Edirisinghe carried
out three attack runs during which four Sea Tiger boats were destroyed.
But, his Dvora then came under intense fire that disabled the engine.
Whilst drifting one or more guerrilla suicide boats rammed the fast
attack craft. It was sunk. The brave officer, his deputy Sub Lieutenant
R.M.D.H.S. Ratnayake, 17 sailors and an Army signalman on board
are feared dead. Like their beloved ones, there will be many Sri
Lankans who will be saddened today at the thought that they gave
their lives so their 710 colleagues and those escorting them may
live. They averted a national tragedy. As a result of their action,
Pearl Cruise II was able to enter the KKS harbour just after 10
p.m. that Thursday.
During search operations on Friday, carried out
under heavy security, eight bodies have been discovered. As the
search went on, a naval patrol observed at least two suicide eight
boats closer to the Mullaitivu coast. The Air Force was placed on
alert to bomb them if they ventured out to sea. They did not. The
Navy recovered parts of a ransom where outboard motors (OBM) are
fixed to a boat. This belonged to the boat used for the suicide
attack and showed that it had been installed with four OBMs each
with a 400 horsepower capacity.
That meant the suicide boat could travel at high
speed. Lt. Cmdr. Edirisinghe is to be recommended for the highest
posthumous honour for his bravery. Also due for posthumous honour
is his number two and those on board the Dvoras. However, posthumous
promotions for them and others feared dead will have to wait for
a year unless their bodies now missing are found. Until then, Navy
Headquarters, in terms of existing regulations, have to declare
them Missing in Action. A Navy source quoted intelligence reports
as saying that a guerrilla mass funeral for nearly 50 cadres was
held near Vettilaikerny yesterday. But there has been no word from
Guerrilla casualties during the encounter are not
exactly known. The Navy estimates that over 40 have died while the
LTTE had claimed an incredibly low figure of four with 15 others
injured. That latter is said to be during a radio intercept.
The bravery of the officers and men who commanded
the other FACs is also to be recognized. Due for honour together
with their men are Lt. Cmdr. I.W.M.A. Wijewardena (CO - Dvora P-420),
Lt. R.J. Walgampaya (CO - Dvora 421) and Lt. R.M.I. Rathnathilaka
(CO - Dvora P-497).
Together with their dead colleagues, these Navy
men not only saved the lives of their 710 colleagues and escorts.
They made sure that the Tiger guerrilla operation, after they had
become militarily stronger during a four-year-long ceasefire, did
not succeed and lead to mass funerals countrywide during a significant
week. That was Vesak when the nation is marking the 2550th anniversary
of Buddha Jayanthi. The consequences of such an eventuality would
have been unimaginable.
If the brave Navy men were denied access to some
modern equipment, the result of some filthily corrupt and inept
senior officers opting for outdated ones to make a fast buck, they
had one great asset. That was their courage, commitment and determination.
They displayed it in abundance in the face of the irreparable harm
caused by some politicians, who screamed that national security
interests were in danger but did nothing. The serious shortcomings
caused by their inaction were clearly highlighted during Thursday's
encounter. Due to security considerations they cannot be detailed
out until a few more annual English summer holidays are over.
It is only in adversity that a nation realises
there are brave men and women in their armed forces whose great
richness is to place their lives in harm's way for the sake of their
country and not become billionaires or millionaires. Even if the
nation is helpless about growing corruption, they would no doubt
be mindful about today's heroes, majority of them poor but patriotic,
courageous and clean.
When the fighting was raging in the seas off Chalai,
the Navy also sought the support of the Air Force. This was to attack
the Sea Tiger boats from air. It was just before dusk when Israeli-built
Kfir interceptor jets and Russian built Mi-24 helicopter gun ships
took to the skies. The Mi-24s were at the scene only minutes before
dusk and thus were unable to play a much aggressive role.
However, two pairs of Kfir jets carried out bombing
sorties on Tiger guerrilla targets in the Wanni, the first time
during the four-year ceasefire. According to a Government statement,
the Sri Lanka Air Force "conducted a limited operation to deter
further attacks by the LTTE."
It said the operation was "confined to an
already identified illegal aviation facility under construction
by the LTTE in Iranamadu." The wording of the statement including
a veiled reference to an "illegal aviation facility" may
give one the impression that the LTTE was building a new airport.
It is not so.
The Kfirs bombed the 1.4 kilometre long LTTE airstrip
south east of the Iranamadu irrigation tank. Initial reports say
the bombs fell on one end of the runway but details of damage or
casualties caused are not known. The airstrip is within an area
which the LTTE has declared as a "high security zone"
and civilian access there is strictly prohibited. The existence
of this airstrip, capable of handling even a fully loaded Hercules
C-130 aircraft, and the LTTE acquisition of air capability were
exclusively revealed from time to time in The Sunday Times (Situation
Report). Periodic Air Force surveillance of the airstrip area revealed
continued development activity including construction of buildings.
A request by the SLMM to visit the airstrip for
inspection after the Air Force bombing on Thursday evening has been
refused by the LTTE. This is in marked contrast to the Head of the
truce monitoring team Maj. Gen. (retd.) Ulf Henriccson being allowed
access to guerrilla dominated areas of Sampur after air raids there.
It is only after that visit did the SLMM declare in a statement
that the Air Force had targeted guerrilla positions.
It was only on Friday May 5 that an Air Force
Beechcraft on a surveillance flight observed an unidentified aircraft
at an altitude of some 10,000 feet over Mullaitivu skies. They have
been unable to positively identify whether it was a combat aircraft
or one used for civilian purposes. Also observed on the tarmac was
another smaller aircraft that resembled an Argentina-built Pucara.
However, Air Force officials say this could even be a dummy placed
there to mislead.
Similar suspicions were entertained when LTTE light
aircraft were first spotted on an apron near the airstrip. Extensive
tyre marks, continued surveillance has revealed, showed up on the
runway confirming that the guerrillas were regularly using this
airstrip. This includes night flying training, which intelligence
sources confirm, have been going on.
An interesting aside to the gun battles at sea
came from SLMM monitor Lars Bleymann who was on Dvora P-421. Using
a satellite phone he carried with him, Mr. Blaymann was giving a
live commentary to the SLMM headquarters in Colombo about the fighting.
At one point he expressed fears that the vessel he was on board,
flying the SLMM flag, too would come under fire. The beneficiaries
of his reportage were a few Colombo-based journalists. They surprised
senior military officials by trying to verify information the former
had not yet heard.
If Mr. Blaymann was on board Dvora-P 421, there
was Mr. Ilkka Happlina on board Pearl Cruise II. So the SLMM men
were both hearing and seeing what the Tiger guerrillas were doing.
That Thursday evening they issued a statement declaring that the
LTTE had "committed gross violations of the Ceasefire Agreement
(CFA) in the recent days by moving at sea with the aim of provoking
the Sri Lankan Navy and now finally embarking on an offensive operation
against the navy sinking one vessel and putting SLMM monitors in
The SLMM said "The LTTE has made, what the
SLMM feels are threats to our monitors warning them not to participate
in patrols in Navy vessels. The SLMM takes these threats very seriously
and would like to remind the LTTE of its responsibility as an equal
partner to the Ceasefire Agreement to do everything in its power
not to jeopardize the monitors' safety."
SLMM head retired Swedish Major General Ulf Henriccson
drove to Kilinochchi for a meeting on Friday with LTTE Political
Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan. He expressed serious concerns over
the safety of the members of his mission. But Mr. Thamilselvan was
to raise another issue. The SLMM statement, quite rightly, had declared
that "The sea surrounding Sri Lanka is a Government controlled
area. This has been ruled so by the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring
Mission in line with international law. Non-state actors cannot
rule open sea waters or airspace. The LTTE has therefore no rights
Mr. Thamilselvan was contesting this assertion.
In a letter handed over to Maj. Gen. (retd.) Henriccson he referred
to an SLMM press release issued on April 25 2003. This is how it
went: "When the Ceasefire Agreement was signed on the 22nd
of Feb 02, the LTTE fighting formations, including the Sea Tigers,
existed. Consequently, the LTTE Sea Tigers exists as a De Facto
If at first the SLMM had blundered in acknowledging
LTTE's claim of rights to use Sri Lankan territorial waters, their
statement last Thursday declaring that "the sea surrounding
Sri Lanka is Government controlled area" has rectified it.
That is more than three years later. What does this mean? Does it
not show that through colossal blunders over the interpretation
of Sri Lanka sovereignty, the SLMM is also contributing and exacerbating
problems whilst accusing all and sundry including the media of doing
so? Is it a case of each SLMM Head having his own way? There was
one (Maj. Gen. (retd.) Tryggve Tellefsen) who wanted the Sea Tigers
recognised as a "de facto" force. He was unceremoniously
sent off. There was another (Brig. (retd.) Hagrup Haukland) who
declared the LTTE were "freedom fighters" and pronounced
that the "Army cannot win this war."
It was only two weeks earlier, the SLMM accused
the Sri Lankan security forces of "extra judicial killings."
Under Government protest they backed out with another statement
retracting their earlier "judgement." The presence of
two monitors in the high seas during Thursday's confrontation gave
the SLMM the opportunity to issue a strong statement. What of the
female suicide bomber's attack on Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath
Fonseka on April 25? The SLMM said it would for the "time being
refrain from drawing any immediate conclusions about the possible
Do they still find it difficult to say who the
perpetrators are? Do they, like their “judgement” on
the LTTE attack on Chinese trawlers in 2003, feel it was the work
of a "third force?" Isn't it time the Government assess
the role of the bunch of Scandinavian self acclaimed "do gooders"
who call themselves the SLMM? They have not only lost their credibility
but have, quite clearly, failed in their role of being consistent
and impartial. On the other hand, it does not do any good for the
Norwegian peace facilitators who have sustained the peace process
Despite continued attacks by the LTTE, President
Mahinda Rajapaksa insists that his Government is committed to the
Ceasefire Agreement and a negotiated settlement. During a meeting
on Thursday at "Temple Trees," however, he declared that
his patience should not be misunderstood for weakness. "I have
vowed to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri
Lanka. I will defend my people whether they are in the north, east,
west or south," he told me. Excerpts of an interview he gave
appears in a box story on page 11.
Like the attempt to kill Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka,
the LTTE's grand plan to kill over 700 troops at sea on Thursday
misfired. Intelligence sources say LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran
has berated his Sea Tiger leader Thillaiampalam Sivanesan alias
Soosai for not accomplishing "the mission."
There is no doubt now. Eelam War IV has not only
begun but portends to grow in intensity. Even if two of their major
efforts have come a cropper, there is no doubt the LTTE will continue
to step up violent attacks. Like the brave men in the Navy, there
are others too in the Army, Air Force and Police. A nation looks
to them to rise to the occasion.
SLMM hails Navy officer's exemplary
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Misssion has commended the officer in charge
of Navy Dvora patrol craft P-421, Lieutenant R.J. Walgampaya, for
his exemplary behaviour in the face of last Thursday's LTTE attack
on his vessel.
SLMM Deputy Head of Naval Monitoring Team in Jaffna
Lars Bleymann was on board the Dvora P-421 with the SLMM flag aloft
when the attack took place. In a letter dated May 12 to Rear Admiral
Upali Ranaweera, Commander, Northern Naval Area, this is what Mr.
"I wish to thank the SLN in general and Lt. Walgampaya, OIC
P-421, and his crew in particular for the fact that I am still here.
"It is my sincere opinion that Lt. Walgampaya
yesterday before, during and after the Sea Tiger attack behaved
exemplarily. I cannot describe in words how thankful I am to him.
His calm and collected behaviour during this operation is a credit
to SLN. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. He never wavered,
never lost his coolness and never lost his professionalism. Not
one single session during the attack did I have any doubts about
his abilities. His crew carried out his orders and were never in
doubt. They too are a credit to SLN.
"I am proud to be able to say that I was
on P-421 during this terrible episode. I would be very grateful
if you could personally pass my comments on to him and his men.
"Once again I would like to state that they are real credit
to your organisation. With people like that serving for you, you
can rest assured that SLN is in a very good state.
"I would also like to pass on my sympathy
to the families of the victims of P-418. I was lucky enough to be
on board with Lt. (Cmdr.) Edirisinghe and his crew only two days
committed to peace, vows to protect country and people
President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Amidst his many official chores, President Mahinda
Rajapaksa found time for an interview with The Sunday Times on Thursday.
Here are edited excerpts:
On situation in the
country being grim:
I will not agree or disagree. There is, however, some uncertainty
about the peace talks. The LTTE has not yet decided to come for
it. The signals we are getting are different. We are very much committed
to peace talks. I hope the LTTE also realizes the gravity of the
situation they are causing. It will affect the people of this country.
Other than that, economic development is going
on. We have achieved a 6.5 percent growth. Foreign investment is
coming in. If you go through BOI (Board of Investment) approved
projects, what we have received for the first quarter of this year
is more than the whole of last year.
I am an optimist. As I stated during my address
to the nation on Independence Day, for every drop of blood that
flows a greater degree of sweat has to be spent. All the major projects
were started within the first six months of my Presidency. The coal
power project in Norochcholai has been pending from the time of
late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. So were the Kotmale project,
the Katunayake highway, the second phase of development for Sethsiripaya,
a port in the south and an international airport in the south.
On expressing personal confidence that things will
work out, much the same way it did during presidential elections
in november, last year:
I have that confidence. Whatever action I have taken with regard
to the ethnic issue, I have remained completely transparent. There
are no hidden agendas or secret agreements. Be it with the people
of the south, north or the east, I have remained very open.
LTTE helping him 'win' at the presidential elections
in the belief he was 'easier to tackle' than his opponent unp leader
They may be correct in thinking that way. I strongly feel I can
be easily approached by people. I think I know people's feelings.
So, in that way the LTTE is correct. But they must have that same
confidence towards me in the future too.
On the ceasefire becoming a sham:
The ceasefire is still in place and my Government respects it. But
the LTTE has violated it on a number of occasions. I know there
have been allegations of violations by the armed forces or the police.
But they are relatively less.
However, can any of these be compared with the
attempt on the life of the Commander of the Sri Lanka Army? What
could be compared with the attack on a naval convoy on Thursday?
What is the comparison with the killing of our Foreign Minister,
Lakshman Kadirgamar? What could be compared with all these killings?
We carried out a limited operation in Sampur.
That came after the LTTE attacked the Army Headquarters on April
25 and attempted to assassinate our Army Commander and the simultaneous
attack on the Navy in Trincomalee. This was a serious incident that
shocked the nation. I had to make sure such dastardly attacks are
not repeated. I have vowed to protect the sovereignty and territorial
integrity of Sri Lanka.
The people have given me a solemn mandate for this.
I have to defend the country. I have to and I will continue to defend
my people whether they are living in the south, north, east or west.
My patience should not be misconstrued as weakness. I will not waver
in my commitment to the people from all parts of our nation. If
they (the LTTE) insist on continuing their attacks, I have to defend
my country. Whether it is north, south, west or east I will protect
the people with the same commitment.
I ordered a limited operation and the armed forces
executed it. It was a limited one and was aimed at specific targets.
I have the fullest confidence in the capability of our armed forces
and the police. But that does not mean we do not accept the ceasefire.
It was preventive action to avert another war. With the attack on
Army Headquarters, it was widely claimed that the LTTE has declared
war on us. But, as the head of a responsible Government I continue
to respect the ceasefire.
Honourable peace cannot be achieved easily. For the sake of the
country the people have to bear some of the hardships.
On Norway's role as a peace facilitator:
I think they are doing their best. This is my inheritance.
On allegations that corruption is on the increase:
I will not protect anyone. If there are allegations
against any person, it is up to the Police to investigate and initiate
action. There are many state agencies also tasked with this responsibility.
I will not prejudge persons. I will not do that. However, I must
state categorically that during my tenure no person who squanders
the wealth of this nation will be spared.
When such allegations are leveled against politicians, I have an
added responsibility. I will have to make sure that such accusations
are not made by their rivals for political reasons without any valid
On the rising cost of living:
Going through the index it is clear there has been no increase in
prices of local produce like rice, vegetables etc. They have come
down. The problem is with imported items. There is also a great
disparity in prices at the wholesale point and the retail outlets.
When the world is reeling under the effect of a
barrel of oil going at US$ 72, how can we in this tiny island have
An official committee is already going into this issue. They have
been asked to recommend ways and means of bringing down prices.
But I can see that the economy is growing. There is development
activity. New projects are coming up. The construction industry
is active and there are more buildings coming up.
Whilst we will do everything possible to ease the
burdens on the people, one has to be mindful that development is
the answer to most of our problems. I do not want to make political
gains and will take even an unpopular decision if it is going to
help in development and is better for the country. This is why I
want to push ahead with the Norochcholai power project and set up
an international airport in the south. Some people were trying to
take political advantage of this.
Earlier no one took decisions on such matters.
They thought more about their vote bank. I will not stop development
work and think only about votes. I have consistently proven that
I have not contested elections for political survival. I have never
compromised on principles.
On the formation of a National Government:
Such a Government is possible if it is made up of all political
parties with the exception of none. We cannot isolate one. It all
depends on the situation.
Otherwise a national government would only pave
the way for a dictatorship. I don't want that to happen. There must
be an opposition and their views must be heard. There should be
checks and balances. Working together on a common platform on common
issues is different. This is what we are now doing in respect of
the ethnic issue. This is what we are doing in our resolve to fight
terrorism and violence. This way we can reach broader consensus
on common issues. There is also a lot of room for constructive criticism.
In a nutshell a National Government should not
be one where Members of Parliament get together to distribute ministerial
portfolios. It should reflect views and have the broader consensus
A message to the LTTE:
I always tell them to cease violence. The international community
must also pressurize the LTTE to do this. It is my personal view
that the ethnic issue should not have been internationalized. We
should have treated it as a domestic issue and resolved it ourselves.
As for me, I do not want to internationalize it any further.
I am here with a clean sheet. I do not carry any
baggage. I do understand the problems of the Tamil speaking people.
There is absolutely nothing that we cannot resolve. Bring it to
the table, sit and discuss it with me.