ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 19
Front Page Columns
Situation Report

Govt. sticks to its guns

  • Ceasefire under severe strain: Military Operations continue despite move towards peace talks
  • LTTE ‘Defence Council’ meets, does it mean a major offensive?

By Iqbal Athas

As Eelam War IV rages, the 1687-day-old ceasefire has become the biggest casualty. Whether it would succumb to more severe strains in the coming days and weeks, despite rising hopes in the public mind about immediate peace talks, is now the critical question.

Last Wednesday, Norway's Special Envoy Jon Hanssen Bauer was locked in talks with LTTE Political Wing leader S.P. Thamilselvan in Kilinochchi. At the same time Air Force Kfir jets were bombing guerrilla targets at Kudarappu, located east of Jaffna's Vadamaratchchi sector. Later, the jets also pounded their positions in Pooneryn.

Army troops in action near their defences at Muhamalai. The area has come under frequent artillery and mortar attacks by Tiger guerrillas in the past few days. Army officials say this may be out of fears that troops would advance further into areas held by them.

The Security Forces said it was a direct "defensive" response to guerrilla attacks. In the morning, the guerrillas had fired artillery and mortar barrages at their positions along the newly fortified defence astride Muhamalai. It had wounded nine soldiers. Such firing continued even on Thursday killing two soldiers and injuring 10 more. Three of the wounded were in a critical condition. The Army hit back with artillery and Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers (MBRLs). Such attacks are becoming frequent and seemed an attempt to prevent a further Security Forces advance into guerrilla territory.

When peace initiatives were revived in the past after interludes of fighting, a regular feature was the dawn of silence in the battlefields of the North and East. However, it is not the case during Eelam War IV. There is not only fighting, sometimes very heavy, but the two sides continue to accuse each other of reviving it. It is in this new climate that Mr. Hanssen Bauer talked to LTTE leaders. This was at a time when the LTTE has suffered some serious battlefield setbacks in the recent months.

He returned to Colombo with a message from the LTTE, one evidently endorsed by their leadership. They were willing to return to the negotiating table without "any conditions." Yet, they had one condition - they wanted the Government to halt what they called "military offensives" by the Security Forces and not seize any more territory they dominated. They were agreeable for talks on the dates suggested by the Government - on October 28 and 29 - at a location in Switzerland. They were even willing to hold talks within a specific time frame. The LTTE appeared to have an explanation for their many setbacks. Not wanting to admit them as failures, they had explained to Mr. Hanssen Bauer that they were simply testing the strength and capability of the Security Forces.

Even before Mr. Hanssen Baur boarded an Air Force flight to Vavuniya and travel by road from there to guerrilla-held Kilinochchi, Government and military leaders have been engaged in discussions at the highest levels on issues related to the resumption of peace talks. In the light of their successes, Government leaders felt they should be consulted. Military top brass were strongly of the view that the gains the troops have made should be protected and no opportunity is given to the guerrillas to further endanger national security interests. They were of the view that the guerrillas were only seeking time to regroup, re-arm and were certain to pose further threats.

A characteristic feature of the ongoing war and peace initiatives is the contradictory assertions by spokesman and others who speak for the Government. Like in the past, this has caused more confusion in the public mind over the exact situation with regard to the latest initiative to revive peace talks. In this backdrop, a carefully-worded statement by the Government's Peace Secretariat sets out the official position. It was posted in their website ( This is what it says:

"The Government of Sri Lanka, having considered the message conveyed to it by the Norwegian facilitator that the LTTE is agreeable to resume talks, has accommodated the suggestion to hold talks on October 28 and 29 in Switzerland.

"The Government has informed the facilitators that, consistent with its repeated commitment made at the highest levels of its willingness to engage in discussions to resolve the conflict, it proposes to engage in a discussion of substantive issues with the LTTE with a view to obtaining a permanent solution.

"The Government re-iterates, that it has repeatedly and sincerely requested the LTTE to return to the negotiations and the LTTE has consistently refused to do so without reason. Instead, the LTTE, in the course of a campaign of violence lasting months, has committed blatant violations of its own commitments, including the killing of over 70 civilians in Kebetigollawa in a claymore mine attack, the many suicide attacks, the forcible closing of Mawilaru Anicut depriving over 15,000 families in the Trincomalee district of water for weeks on end, wreaking indiscriminate destruction on the predominantly Muslim township of Mutur, rendering 53,000 homeless, including massive attacks on the forward defence lines in the North and, most recently, unsuccessfully attempting to smuggle a shipload of weapons.

"The Government has also indicated to the facilitators, that if at any time the LTTE undertook actions of an offensive and provocative nature, the Government reserves the right to take counter measures in the interests of national security."

In essence, this official position of the Government, was spelt out to Mr Hanssen Baur when he returned from Kilinochchi. Their assertions are based on the reported charge that it was the LTTE that had continued to violate the ceasefire and mounted repeated attacks. Some of the instances have been enumerated in the Peace Secretariat statement.

Government leaders expected Mr. Hanssen Baur, who was due to leave on Thursday, to change plans and rush to Kilinochchi with their response. But he stuck to his original schedule to visit New Delhi to brief the Government there. Contrary to expectations that he would return to Colombo after meeting Indian officials and travel to Kilinochchi, Mr. Hanssen Baur flew to Oslo for consultations with his Government.

An Air Force helicopter was placed at the disposal of the Norwegian facilitators to fly direct to Kilinochchi with the Government's latest response. That was in marked contrast to an Air Force fixed wing aircraft flying Mr. Hanssen Bauer to Vavuniya after he arrived in Colombo last Sunday. In his absence Government leaders later hoped Norway's Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar would go to convey their position and obtain a response. However, The Sunday Times learnt he was awaiting instructions from his Government in Oslo.

Unlike on past occasions, there was no formal statement at the end of Mr. Hanssen Baur’s visit to Colombo. This is despite his meetings with both Government and LTTE leaders. This, no doubt, suggested his deliberations were inconclusive though many who were authorised to speak on behalf of the Government made contradictory claims about peace talks.

Sections of the Colombo-based diplomatic community believe the Government's latest stance - reserving for itself the right to take counter measures if LTTE undertook actions of an offensive and provocative nature - appeared a marked policy shift. If two previous Governments adhered to the provisions of the Ceasefire Agreement of February 2002, they noted that there was now an apparent shift. One Western diplomat, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, told The Sunday Times the stance appeared to conflict with the CFA.

The preamble to the CFA noted that the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) "recognize the importance of bringing an end to the hostilities and improving the living conditions for all inhabitants affected by the conflict. Bringing an end to the hostilities is also seen by the Parties as a means of establishing positive atmosphere in which further steps towards negotiations on a lasting solution can be taken."

The preamble also notes: "…..the Parties have agreed to enter into a ceasefire, refrain from conduct that could undermine the good intentions or violate the spirit of this Agreement and implement confidence-building measures…"

Moreover, Articles 1.2 and 1.3 of the CFA states: "Neither party shall engage in any offensive military operation. This requires the total cessation of all military action and includes, but is not limited to, such acts as:

The firing of direct and indirect weapons, armed raids, ambushes, assassinations, abductions, destruction of civilian or military property, sabotage, suicide missions and activities by deep penetration units;

  • (a) Aerial bombardment
  • (b) Offensive naval operations.

1.3 The Sri Lanka armed forces shall continue to perform their legitimate task of safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka without engaging in offensive operations against the LTTE.

Both the Government and the LTTE have been directing allegations against each other of triggering off attacks that have drawn reprisals from the other. The Government's insistence that any future talks would be on the explicit understanding that it has the right to adopt counter measures in the light of LTTE attacks sets more than one poser to the Norwegian facilitators. One issue which Norway is pondering over, The Sunday Times learnt, is whether it could raise issue with the LTTE over a matter that did not come within the ambit of the CFA. Another is the future role of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) in the light of the Government's new stance. At least a part of the SLMM role in determining ceasefire violations, it is argued, would be negated.

I asked a high ranking Government personality for his response. He claimed anonymity to explain their role. "No agreement of any sort can compromise Sri Lanka's national security. That should be understood by one and all. Protection of the country's national security interests is our responsibility and we will not fail in that," he said.

Why is the insistence that the Government would reserve the right to hit back if the LTTE attacks before the resumption of peace talks? Does that mean that there is no ceasefire but the Government is still willing to talk peace? His reply: "We have not and will not take up the position that there is no ceasefire. One has to give two week's notice to abrogate the CFA. As far as we are concerned, the Security Forces have come under attack many times and they have been forced to resort to "defensive action." There cannot be a let up on this."

He added: "There is tremendous public appreciation that they are being protected from terrorist attacks. They are undergoing hardships due to security checks and are enduring the long traffic delays that are caused in the City as a result. They are making sacrifices so the Security Forces could make it safer for them. How can our troops do nothing and allow an enemy to build up their militarily under the guise of talking peace. What will the public think if we force them into hardship and do nothing to prevent harm coming their way? They (the LTTE) only want time, after the severe military defeats, to prepare."

Herein lies the dilemma over the CFA and moves to revive peace talks. The Government has offered dates and the LTTE has accepted them. The Norwegian peace facilitators who paved the way so far are now confronted with the knottiest issue that threatens the continuance of their own role. Even the main opposition United National Party (UNP), the authors of the CFA, has now offered to back the Government in its peace efforts. They would naturally have to endorse the Government’s new stance. All this is whilst fighting continues during Eelam War IV.

It was only on Friday heavy fighting broke out in Panichankerni along the coast north of Batticaloa on the now unused road to Trincomalee. Even if one is aware of the fuller details of how it began and ended, it cannot be freely spelt out for many compelling reasons. Suffice to say that according to the military; more than 40 guerrilla cadres have been killed. LTTE's Political Head for Trincomalee district, S. Elilan claimed five guerrillas and 30 troops were killed. According to an intelligence source, 15 soldiers were missing or are feared dead. The figures, however, cannot be independently verified.It is not only on the ground that the Security Forces are resorting to "defensive action" against the LTTE. Early this week Navy Headquarters warned all their installations countrywide of possible guerrilla attacks. A message said:

"Reliable info revealed LTTE planning a major offensive/destruction before mid October to inflict damage to SF (Security Forces).

"Targeting SLN (Sri Lanka Navy) convoys, coastal deployment and harbours through sea borne attempts are likely course of enemy action.

"Warn all units to continue to maintain higher state of preparedness and vigilance and ensure every movement/deployment properly executed after going through all possible aspects as per checklist."
In the recent past the Navy fought at least two major gun battles at sea with the Sea Tigers. They were successful in inflicting damage to their craft and the confrontations saw the deaths of several guerrillas. The first battle lasting nine hours came in the deep seas off Point Pedro (SITUATION REPORT - September 3, 2006). Another was the confrontation off the Mullaitivu coast lasting over five and half hours on August 25. The Sea Tigers is one of the military arms of the LTTE that has remained relatively intact in the recent battles with Security Forces. This is underscored even by the Navy's warning sent out this week.

Some of the recent events, both political and military, do not seem to be lost on the LTTE altogether. This is despite the recent reversals they suffered. The pro-LTTE website Tamilnet quoted "Military Spokesman" Rasiah Ilanthiriyan as saying that the LTTE's "Defence Council" has been convened to determine "future course of action." This hitherto unknown Council, instead of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran taking decisions, is both unusual an uncharacteristic. Yet, there is some significance. The question is whether the LTTE is setting the stage for a major attack? The LTTE had earlier declared they would heed the call of the donor co-chairs and return to peace talks. Is this a prelude to saying the so-called Defence Council reviewed the situation and thus seek to justify any future military action?

Since it was signed in February 2002, at no time before has the CFA come under so much severe strain. If the ongoing fighting under Eelam War IV has confined the ceasefire to paper, will the upcoming events erase it from there too? Or, will the LTTE heed the Government's latest stance? Will they send a delegation to Switzerland to sit down for talks with the Government side on October 28 and 29? One need hardly wait for those dates. The answers seem very clear.

New Police Chief outlines plans

The top priority for Yaddehige Premathillake Victor Perera (58) who takes over next week as Inspector General of Police, would be to ensure recognition, protection and advancement of Human Rights.

Victor Perera,
the new IGP

This main obligation, he told The Sunday Times, was his primary task. A directive issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa on July 7, 2006, had spelt out the guidelines for the Police force.

Mr. Perera succeeds Chandra Fernando, who together with 49 other Police officers, are headed for East Timor shortly. They are part of a UN peace keeping contingent in that country.

Besides Human Rights, Mr. Perera says, there is an immediate need to motivate Police officers by meeting some of their pressing needs. One is the question of accommodation for men, particularly those who are single. He has been prompted by the large number of policemen who have been assigned for special duty in the City. That is to conduct checks on vehicles entering the City and also guard strategic locations. Many of them do not have proper accommodation or the barest toilet facilities. They have been grouped together in Government buildings. Married Quarters in Colombo, Kandy, Galle, Matara and Anuradhapura will also receive priority consideration.

In consultation with the National Police Commission, Mr. Perera says, he will formulate a rapid promotion scheme for the rank and file. He will also review transfer policies with a view to addressing the grievances of officers.

Educated at Vidyarathne Vidyalaya, Horana, Mr.Perera joined as a Probationary Assistant Superintendent of Police on April 11, 1974. He was promoted as Superintendent of Police on November 4, 1983 and was thereafter in charge of the districts of Batticaloa, Tangalle, Matara, Anuradhapura, Kalutara South, Colombo North and Mount Lavinia. He was also in charge of the Field Force Headquarters and once served as Director Administration at Police Headquarters.

Weeks before his appointment, a successor to IGP Chandra Fernando became the subject of controversy. The traditional practice of promoting Deputy Inspectors General of Police (DIGs) from Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) was according to seniority.

A promotion interview board met recently to consider the cases of 40 SSPs seeking promotion to DIG rank. Though Mr. Perera was then seventh in seniority, he was not considered when 12 others were selected to be DIGs from July 13, 1993. Barring two officers, three others (DIGs Bodhi Liyanage, Sirisena Herath and Kumarasiri Gamage) were of the same seniority in the rank of SSP. They joined together on the same date as Probationary ASPs.

Thereafter, on different dates, six more SSPs were promoted DIGs. Of this, two (H.A.J.S.K. Wickremaratne and R.M. Seneviratne Banda) were of the same seniority.

Mr. Perera complained to the Political Victimisation Committee. They held there was discrimination and recommended the restoration of his seniority in the rank of DIG on par with other senior DIGs. This was subsequently approved by the Cabinet.

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