to its guns
- Ceasefire under severe strain:
Military Operations continue despite move towards
- LTTE ‘Defence Council’
meets, does it mean a major offensive?
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
|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 (http://www.peaceinsrilanka.lk).
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
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
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
- (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
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
"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
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.
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.
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.